Fifteen of the delayed permits are for surface mines in Logan, Mingo, Boone, Lincoln and Wyoming counties.
The mines affected are: CoalMac Inc.’s Pine Creek Surface Mine in Logan County; Eastern Associated Coal’s Huff Creek Surface Mine in Logan and Wyoming counties; Hobet Mining’s Surface Mine No. 45 in Lincoln County; Marrowbone Development’s Taywood W & Marrowbone, ICG Eastern LLC’s Jenny Creek Surface Mine, CONSOL Energy’s Buffalo Mountain Surface Mine, Frasure Creek Mining’s Spring Fork Surface Mine No. 2 and Consol of Kentucky’s Spring Branch No. 3 Deep Mine, all in Mingo County; Hobet Mining’s Hewett operation, Independence Coal’s Constitution Surface Mine and Glory Surface Mine, Colony Bay Coal’s Colony Bay Surface Mine and Coyote Coal’s Joes Creek Surface Mine, all in Boone County; and Bluestone’s ContourAuger1 mine and Paynter Branch Mining’s South Surface Mine in Wyoming County.
In nearby Pike County, Ky., there are 12 mines affected, 11 in Floyd County and three in Martin County, Ky.
The action is the administration’s latest attempt to curb environmental damage from a highly efficient but damaging mining practice known as mountaintop removal. Each permit likely would cause significant damage to water quality and the environment, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement.
The permits would allow mine operators to bury intermittent streams with excess material removed to expose coal seams. Environmental groups including the Sierra Club and the Rainforest Action Committee want Obama to ban the practice, arguing it destroys ancient mountain peaks, fouls water and damages the culture of Appalachia.
The applications now go to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will coordinate changes to reduce potential damage. The aim is to avoid environmental damage and meet the country’s energy and economic needs, Peter Silva, EPA’s assistant administrator for water, wrote in a letter to the corps.
The coal industry estimates mountaintop mines in Appalachia produce 130 million tons of coal a year, most of which goes to generate electricity for 24.7 million customers in the East and South.
‘‘Coal mining throughout Appalachia cannot reassure thousands of anxious workers and their families, and we cannot plan for the economic future of our operations absent a workable, transparent process that provides certainty,’’ National Mining Association President Hal Quinn said in a statement.
‘‘EPA’s answer of more delay and study is at cross-purposes with our nation’s need for affordable energy, investments and secure jobs.’’
All 79 permits were on a preliminary list released by the EPA on Sept. 11. They cover applications for surface coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee. West Virginia and Kentucky rank second and third in U.S. coal production behind Wyoming.
‘‘People all over West Virginia can’t believe this is happening,’’ West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said in a statement. ‘‘They don’t understand why Washington is willing to kill-off good paying jobs when our economy is still on the ropes and the unemployment rate is still unacceptably high.’’
The Sierra Club did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The EPA said the 79 delayed permits represent the corps’ current backlog of mountaintop mining permits, though the National Mining Association put that figure at 250.