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EPA revokes permit for mine

W.Va. officials criticize agency

By Vicki Smith
Associated Press / January 14, 2011

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday that it is revoking a crucial water permit for West Virginia’s largest mountaintop removal mine, formalizing an action it first threatened nine months ago.

Peter S. Silva, the assistant administrator for water, said Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would use “destructive and unsustainable’’ mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and cause irreparable damage to the environment.

Arch issued a statement saying it was “shocked and dismayed’’ by EPA’s assault on a permit that was legitimately issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, and vowed to continue fighting for the mine.

“We believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future US investment,’’ said company spokeswoman Kim Link.

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. The St. Louis-based coal company 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, but it prohibits new, large-scale operations in other areas.

The ruling brought predictable responses from observers — praise from environmentalists and harsh words from the industry and its supporters.

“This news is devastating,’’ said acting Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat. “The Spruce No. 1 permit was issued years ago and it’s hard to understand how the EPA at this late stage could take such a drastic action.’’

Democratic US Senator Joe Manchin, a former governor whose administration sued the EPA last year over its new scrutiny of mountaintop removal coal mining, called the ruling “fundamentally wrong’’ and “a shocking display of overreach.’’

But Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called it “a strong commitment to the law, the science, and the principles of environmental justice.’’

And Janet Keating, director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said the EPA is validating what her organization has long argued: “These types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests, and nearby residents’ health.’’

The EPA said it was 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. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.’’

The EPA said this is only the 13th time it has used its Clean Water Act veto authority.