Jay to EPA: Let the Spruce Mine permit go

September 10, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


No word yet today from EPA on its “initial list” of mountaintop removal permits it wants to more closely review (the list was due to be made public Tuesday) … but the politicians continue to weigh in on coal’s side in the Obama administration’s effort to block the largest strip-mining permit in West Virginia history.

A little while ago, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., joined West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin  in blasting the Obama EPA for urging the federal Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the nearly 2,300-acre permit to mine in Pigeonroost Hollow near Blair in Logan County, W.Va.

In his two-page letter  to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Rockefeller expressed “grave concern” about the agency’s move:

Such an action not only affects this specific permit, but would also needlessly create great uncertainty surrounding other currently operational permits.

Rockefeller took the unusual action — for a member of the Senate — of encouraging a specific action by a regulatory agency on a specific matter pending before that agency (and also pending before a federal judge), telling Jackson that EPA should “retract” the agency’s Sept. 3 letter to the Corps and “to remove any further impediments to this mining operation.  In a handwritten note at the end of the letter, Rockefeller said:

Obviously, I feel more than strongly about this matter. It needs to be corrected.

Rockefeller noted that the Corps reviewed the Spruce Mine proposal for nearly a decade before it was approved in January 2007, and that this was the only mountaintop removal mine for which the agency ever completed a full Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS:

In fact, the satisfy the environmental concerns raised by the EPA at the time, the permit was substantially scaled back. As approved, the final permit reduced the acreage of the permit by 835 acres or 27 percent and excess spoil by 150 million cubic yards, a 57 percent decrease.

These dramatic reductions in environmental impact were noted specifically by the EPA before the final permit was issued. All parties involved, including the EPA and the Corps, highlighted this process as a model for future efforts.

Rockefeller appears to be the only member of the West Virginia congressional delegation — so far — to have stepped forward to defend the Spruce Mine (which, interestingly, was moved at some point from Arch Coal’s unionized Hobet subsidiary to the company’s non-union arm, Mingo Logan Coal). No word on any action regarding this permit by Rep. Nick J. Rahall, who has been closely watching EPA’s actions on mountaintop removal. And nothing from Sen. Robert C. Byrd, whose office has said nothing about any results of a staff fact-finding mission to the coalfields back in June.

Updated, 1 p.m. Sept. 11:

This statement just in from EPA spokeswoman Adora Andy:

“We take the senator’s concerns seriously but believe that this mine raises unique and serious issues that deserve further consideration by the Army Corps of Engineers, the permitting agency, as our letter to the corps explains.”

Rockefeller’s letter continued:

I strongly support careful environmental review of all mining permits, but just as strongly believe it is more than inappropriate to revoke a permit that was rigorously reviewed, lawfully issued, and has been active for two years.

When businesses make good faith efforts and fully comply with all applicable laws and regulations, they must have the confidence that the commitments made by the government will be honored.

To revisit these issues long after the fact calls into question EPA’s commitment to negotiations and agreements.

On this issue of the permit being “lawfully issued,” it’s important to note that whether or not the Spruce Mine permit was “lawfully issued” has yet to be resolved … Just a few days after the Corps issued the permit, environmental group lawyers rushed into U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers courtroom seeking a temporary restraining order to block the mine.

As we know, the ruling by Chambers blocking four other mining permits (not the Spruce Mine) was overturned by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Arch Coal lawyers cited this 4th Circuit ruling in seeking to have Chambers throw out the legal challenge to the Spruce Mine.

But the Spruce Mine, and the legal challenge to it, appear quite different from the mines Chambers and the 4th Circuit already considered. For one thing, there’s the matter of the EIS.  Environmental group lawyers want a chance to show Chambers why they think the Spruce Mine EIS was inadequate, and did not properly examine the mine’s potential environmental effects.  And there’s the matter of the new EPA objection letter, which spells “new information and circumstances” since the permit approval in January 2007 and “recent data and analysis” about the impact of mountaintop removal mines.

Allegations that the Spruce Mine is illegal haven’t been resolved by any court. They’re still pending before Judge Chambers.The legal challenge to it was filed while Chambers was hearing a larger mountaintop removal case, and Arch Coal agreed to restrict its operations to avoid a court battle until that larger case was resolved.

Now, the company argues it “has deployed millions of dollars in capital and put dozens of persons to work, but must soon develop more fill capacity or cease operation.” The Corps asked Chambers for 30 days to review the EPA letter; Arch Coal opposes that request. The judge has yet to rule.

Is Rockefeller essentially throwing himself into the middle of a pending federal court case? Well, in his letter, the senator addressed that issue this way:

The fact that the Spruce Mine is the subject of litigation by private parties in no way alters the status or validity of the government’s permit, in this or any other permitting matter.

There’s another line in Rockefeller’s letter to EPA that says:

I am a long-time supporter of surface mining operations when done in accordance with the law. Surface mining is vital to the economy of southern West Virginia and our nation’s electricity needs and it certainly can be carried out in a way that addresses environmental impacts.

Things sure have changed since 1972, when Rockefeller said this in his losing bid for governor of West Virginia:

We know that strip mining is tearing up the beauty of our state. We know that strip mining is not a good economic future for West Virginia and not a good economic future for our children. And we know that, whatever advantage it has now, the damage that it leaves is a permanent damage.

12 Responses to “Jay to EPA: Let the Spruce Mine permit go”

  1. bo webb says:

    Rockefeller shouldn’t be trying to influence the EPA. He could do much better of his time using his influence to bring NEW JOBS to WV. MTR will soon be a thing of the past. He should have the courage to tell the coal barons to stop wasting his time and get back underground.

  2. Kenneth King says:

    I agree with Mr. Webb. Where was the “grave concern” for the communities of Blair and Sharples when Arch Coal was sysematically wiping them of f the map? Where is the “grave concern for nearly for nearly 6000 more acres of Appalachian forest land that will eventually be destroyed forever by Arch Coal around Blair? Where is the “grave concern” for the Blair Mtn. battlefield that will be obliterated by Arch Coal and Massey Energy? Apparently those things don’t matter as long as the coal severance tax money keeps coming in. The politicians need to leave the EPA alone and let them do their job, which they weren’t allowed to do during the last eight years.

  3. rick says:

    All 5 of WV national legfislators are in coal’s hip pocket.
    Money talks.
    They couldn’t care less about the communities being destroyed in Southern WV.

  4. connie says:

    Mr. Webb and Mr. King couldn’t have expressed my ideas any better. We’ve long been hostage to big coal companies and the politians they buy. I’m totally unimpressed with Manchin’s stand on MTR or the coal industry as a whole, after all, he owes them big and wants to keep their favor until he’s in Washington.

  5. eastwood78 says:

    Senator Rockefeller should be fighting for a national health plan for all Americans, leave EPA to do their job. One thing for sure the WVEPA will not do anything.

    It was a wonder that Mr. Manchin was not a speaker at the great Labor Day coal rally that Don Blankenship had. As for Hank Williams, Jr. being for coal and MTR, I am sure that the money he got paid by Blankenship would cause him to speak out and say anything that he was told to say. The only way he knew what coal was if someone should happen to hit him with a lump of coal.

    Go home Hank, and we would be grateful if you would take Governor Manchin, Mr. Blankenship and all the other coal barons with you.

  6. Dennis Wellman says:

    I love it when liberals attack their own. This is a first for any of the WV representatives. They stood silently by as 400 workers lost their jobs a few years ago at Dal-Tex. It time to stand for the WV coal miners and their families. These are good paying jobs that support WV families. You guys act like coal miners are terrorists. As bad as you folks dislike coal and coal miners, you don’t have anything to take our place except foreign oil. Get a life! We follow the rules, so get off our backs and let us work!

  7. hollergirl says:

    I wonder where the same concern was/is for underground miners that lost their jobs due to “market conditions”?
    It is inevitable that more mining job loses will continue as coal is finite and more states moving to renewable energy. West Virginian and Kentucky miners should be spending their time and energy demanding that our state elected officials diversify and offer re-training now.

  8. fmoose39 says:

    Why does PA get a solar manufaturing plant and AEP is building a 10 megawatt solar farm in OH and RI, NJ, MI, NY, MN, and many other states put solar on peoples homes but not in WV. Why is our government letting the coal industry ship coal to China to build and power there factories so they can take more of our manufaturing jobs. Seems to me if we did not sale the coal to China they could not power there factories and thus our factories would still be here. Just a thought. And another thought we mine the coal and ship it half way around the world power a Chinese factory to make a product using our technologies and then they ship it back to us and sale it for more then we orginially paid. Where is the problem? Maybe the base is in the coal industry and the poloticians that do what they want them to do, so they make money and then pay to get them elected again.

  9. Nanette says:

    I am in total agreement with most of the comments here. Our representatives and governor should be looking to diversify our economy instead of fighting for the rights of coal companies to continue to destroy our state and communities.

    One thing I feel I must say. Most liberals lay blame where blame is due, it doesn’t matter whether the politicians are democrat or republican. We don’t march in lockstep with the politicians who we disagree with.

  10. Gordon says:

    Jay “learned” his lesson years ago when his political fortunes suffered because he expressed concerns about stripmining. Give Manchin some credit: he didn’t sell out. King Coal owned his soul from the beginning.

  11. Nanette says:

    True Gordon, very true. I feel that we have been bought out and sold out. It used to be that it was all hush hush backroom deals, but now they are brazenly out in the open with it.

  12. […] Coal had strenuously objected to the stay,  and political leaders including Manchin and Sen. Jay Rockefeller jumped in to complain about EPA’s […]

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