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Two Important Environmental Victories Against Mountaintop Removal Mining

Two Important Environmental Victories Against Mountaintop Removal Mining

Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project recently notched two important victories against mountaintop removal mining.

First, the D.C. Circuit reversed a district court decision and ruled that the EPA has the power to veto the permit for Spruce No. 1 Mine. Pictured below, it is the largest mountaintop removal coal mine ever proposed in Appalachia. This mine would have filled seven miles of streams with mining waste.

Public Justice has been fighting this huge mine for 15 years, having first blocked it in 1999; continuing litigation created the opportunity for EPA, in 2011, to issue its rarely used veto. Spruce No. 1 Mine has become an icon in the coal industry’s claimed “war on coal,” and the D.C Circuit Court’s decision is effectively that mine’s death knell.

Second, the Sixth Circuit invalidated a 2007 version of the streamlined permit used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a region-wide basis to rubber stamp the dumping of coal mining waste into hundreds of miles of Appalachian headwater streams.

As EEP Director Jim Hecker wrote, “This permit should never have been issued in the first place; it was based on the Corps’ unsupportable assumption that filling these streams has minimal environmental effects.” The Sixth Circuit agreed.

This decision also raises serious questions about the Corps’ entire approach to cumulative impacts and compensatory mitigation for coal mining projects. Up to now, the Corps has refused to take these issues seriously or to measure mitigation effectiveness. Now it will have to.

The groups challenging NWP 21 in court actions include: Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky Waterways Alliance, Kentucky Riverkeeper, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch and Natural Resources Defense Council.

The legal team opposing NWP 21 and Spruce No. 1 Mine is led by Hecker, who has been assisted by Joe Lovett at Appalachian Mountain Advocates in Lewisburg, W.Va., Jennifer Chavez and Emma Cheuse at Earthjustice in Washington, D.C., and Stephen Sanders at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky.

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