Coal Tattoo

spruce-mine1

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just issued its “proposed determination” to block the Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.

EPA has posed this proposed determination document on its Region 3 Web site, along with a Technical Support document and other materials about the Spruce Mine.

According to EPA:

EPA has reason to believe that the Spruce No. 1 Mine, as currently authorized, could result in unacceptable adverse effects to fish and wildlife resources.

EPA is concerned that the project could result in unacceptable adverse effects on the aquatic ecosystem, particularly to fish and wildlife resources and water quality. EPA is also concerned that the project may have cumulative adverse impacts. EPA believes that the Spruce No. 1 project, in conjunction with numerous other mining operations either under construction or proposed for the Coal River sub-basin, may contribute to the cumulative loss of water quality, aquatic and forest resources. The Coal River sub-basin is already heavily mined and demonstrates impacts associated with surface coal mining.

There’s also a press release available that includes comments from Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin:

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. 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.

As I explained in an earlier post, this EPA notice starts another long process of review and debate — including a mandatory public hearing if EPA finds a significant degree of public interest — before EPA would actually veto the permit.

UPDATED:

Arch Coal just issued the following statement —

After various efforts over the past few months to address EPA’s concerns with the Spruce permit, Arch Coal is disappointed that EPA has chosen to take the unprecedented action to initiate the veto process under Section 404(c) of the Clean Water Act against a validly issued and existing permit.  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.  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.  Further, we intend to oppose the government’s efforts to extend the stay in Judge Chambers’ court with respect to our pending motion for summary judgment.

Updated 2:

Department of Justice lawyers have filed papers asking U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to stay legal proceedings — in a case where environmental groups challenged the Corps’ approval of the Spruce Mine — pending completion of EPA’s possible veto action.