Before blocking one of Appalachia's largest-ever mountaintop coal-mining projects this month, U.S. EPA agreed to allow blasting to start on a half-a-dozen other mountaintop mines. Last July, for example, five months before EPA's landmark veto of Arch Coal Inc.'s permit for the 2,200-acre Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia, the agency greenlit plans from an Arch subsidiary, Coal-Mac Inc., to dynamite a third as many acres for the Pine Creek, W.Va., mine. And last January, EPA signed off on plans from a former Arch subsidiary for another West Virginia mine, Hobet 45. Sited south of Charleston, the mine would have razed 602 acres and clogged 6 miles of streams. The mine owner, Patriot Coal Corp., reworked the plan to work in phases and reduce stream damage by half, which in turn appeased EPA. EPA's compromises show nuanced exceptions to the Obama administration's tough approach to mountaintop mining: Companies that agree to blast in phases, one at a time, while monitoring and mitigating for environmental damage are more likely to get the green light. Companies unwilling to bargain over such details, as was the case with Spruce No. 1, get blocked.