U.S. EPA proposed a veto today of the Clean Water Act permit issued for one of Central Appalachia's largest mountaintop-removal coal mines.
If finalized, the veto would invalidate the Army Corps of Engineers' permit for the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in southern West Virginia that was first issued in 2007.
Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce No. 1 mine would degrade surrounding water quality, fill more than 7 miles of headwater streams and affect more than 2,000 acres of forest, EPA said.
"Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation's energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution -- and the damage from this project would be irreversible," said Shawn Garvin, the EPA's mid-Atlantic regional administrator.
"This recommendation is consistent with our broader Clean Water Act efforts in Central Appalachia. EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming."
Under the Clean Water Act, EPA has veto power over all Army Corps permits for surface coal mines, but it has used that authority 12 times since 1972. The agency has never before vetoed a previously issued permit.
The proposal will be published in the Federal Register, initiating a 60-day public comment period. EPA has also pledged to hold a field hearing in West Virginia.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal objected to the proposal and said it would consider court action to stop the veto from going forward.
"The Spruce permit is the most scrutinized and fully considered permit in West Virginia's history. The 13-year permitting process included the preparation of a full environmental impact statement, the only permit in the eastern coal fields to ever undergo such review," said the company in a statement. "We are evaluating all possible options for relief from the government's actions and intend to vigorously defend the Spruce permit by all legal means."
Environmental groups who have opposed the mine since it was first proposed in the late '90s called on EPA to follow through on the proposed veto.
"It is good to see the EPA applying a more scientifically rigorous analysis to these permits, and we hope that the agency follows through on this recommendation," said Ed Hopkins, director of environmental quality for the Sierra Club. "The administration needs to fix the Bush administration rulemaking that allows mines to fill waterways with waste."