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EPA Releases Proposal to Veto Permit for Huge Mountaintop Removal Mine

EPA Releases Proposal to Veto Permit for Huge Mountaintop Removal Mine

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a detailed proposal to veto the permit for the mammoth Spruce Mine that Public Justice has been challenging for twelve years.Since 1998 Public Justice has been fighting to block the Spruce Mine in West Virginia, one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed in Appalachia. Public Justice’s lawsuit stopped the mine in 1999 and forced the Army Corps of Engineers to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project — the first one ever done on an Appalachian mine. After the EIS was completed, the Corps reissued the permit in 2007. Public Justice sued again to stop it, and succeeded in blocking most mining at the site. But the Fourth Circuit reversed in early 2009 and, on remand in the district court, the mine operator has been pushing for an unrestricted green light to go forward and bury seven miles of headwater streams.
Last October, before that damage could occur, the EPA announced that it planned to take the extraordinary step of vetoing the Army Corps’ permit. After negotiations with the mining company failed, EPA issued a 46-page decision and an accompanying 33-page technical document in 2009 that adopted many of the same legal and scientific arguments that Public Justice has been making against mountaintop mining, including significant degradation of water quality, unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife and forests, lack of adequate mitigation for these effects, harm to coalfield residents, and irreversible cumulative effects on natural resources in Appalachia.  This is the first time in the history of the Clean Water Act that EPA has ever proposed to veto a Corps permit for a coal mine.
The Spruce mine was initially permitted by the Corps in 1998 as a routine, three-page, rubber-stampednationwide permit that would have only “minimal environmental effects,” but now EPA has proposed to veto even the Corps’ subsequent, more rigorous 2007 individual permit because it would have “unacceptable adverse effects” on the environment.
Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project has been at the fore of the court fights to stop illegal mountaintop removal mining, which has already buried more than 1,200 miles of streams and destroyed more than 387,000 acres of West Virginia forests and mountains. Public Justice is joined in this effort by the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Earthjustice.