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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Coal Industry Lawsuit

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Coal Industry Lawsuit

By Jim Hecker
Director, Environmental Enforcement Project

Today the Supreme Court denied the coal mining industry’s request to hear a case against the Environmental Protection Agency for vetoing a permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine. This is the latest victory in Public Justice’s 16-year battle to stop one of the largest and most harmful mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia’s history. 

As I explained in a post last May, when we first blocked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Spruce mine in 1999, mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia was increasing, and the Spruce mine was the largest such mine ever proposed, potentially leveling five square miles of Appalachian forest and filling more than 10 miles of headwater streams with mining waste. The Corps reissued the permit in 2007 and EPA vetoed it in 2011, the first time EPA has vetoed a mining project. 

In response, the mining company sued EPA, claiming it had no authority to veto a permit after it was issued. The mining company won this argument in federal district court, and used that win to trumpet false claims that EPA had overreached and was conducting a “war on coal.” 

Now those claims are in tatters. 

Last year the appellate court reversed the lower court decision. It ruled that the plain language of the Clean Water Act gives EPA broad authority to protect water quality, including the power to withdraw a permit whenever it determines that a project will cause unacceptable damage to the environment. The Supreme Court has let that decision stand. 

The mining company will now head back to the district court to challenge EPA’s decision on the merits as arbitrary and capricious. But that challenge will almost surely fail.  EPA’s 99-page decision is supported by nearly 100 scientific studies documenting the serious environmental harm from such mining. 

In the meantime, we are already using some of those studies to force the mining industry to clean up its mess at other mining sites.

Photo Spruce No. 1 Mine: Vivian Stockman/www.ohvec.org Flyover courtesy SouthWings.org