The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that it is revoking a water permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop removal mine projects because it would pollute water, harm wildlife and Appalachian communities in West Virginia.
EPA’s assistant administrator for water, Peter S. Silva told the Associated Press that the agency was employing a rarely used veto power because Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia would use “destructive and unsustainable” mining practices.
The move formalizes an action the agency first threatened nine months ago.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal issued a statement saying it was “shocked and dismayed’’ by the EPA’s assault on a permit that was legitimately issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, and vowed to continue fighting for the mine.
According to the EPA, the nearly 2,300-acre Spruce mine would bury 7 miles of streams, and the EPA has previously ruled it would probably harm downstream water quality. Arch has planned to invest $250 million in the project, creating 250 jobs, but the mine has been delayed by lawsuits since it was permitted in 2007.
Mining already underway in a small portion of the Spruce site won’t be affected by the EPA ruling, which prohibits new, large-scale operations in other areas.
Democratic U.S. senator Joe Manchin, a former West Virginia governor whose administration sued the EPA last year over its more stringent regulation of mountaintop removal coal mining, called the ruling “fundamentally wrong’’ and “a shocking display of overreach.’’
“This is not just an attack on coal or West Virginia – this is an attack on the whole process in America,” Manchin told the Charleston Daily Mail.
But Silva said the EPA is acting within its legal authority.
“Coal and coal mining are part of our nation’s energy future, and EPA has worked with companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our nation’s waters,’’ Silva said in a statement. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.’’
Silva noted this is only the 13th time EPA has used its Clean Water Act veto authority.
Arch, which is the second largest U.S. coal producer, has been unable to work out a deal with the EPA to modify the permit as at least one other coal mining company has done. Arch said it would continue to pursue its case against the EPA in court.
The company filed a case in April 2010 to block the EPA from revoking the permit, but the lawsuit has not moved forward, largely because the agency had yet to make a final decision until now.
Now that the decision has been made, Arch is likely to amend its court filing to try to overturn the EPA’s decision.