EPA recommends veto of W.Va. strip mine permit
CHARLESTON — The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it's following through with its year-old plan to revoke a crucial permit for West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal mine, saying the operation would cause irreversible damage to the environment and wildlife.
Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would encompass 2,278 acres and bury seven miles of headwater streams, potentially degrading water quality.
Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said the company is reviewing the decision and would comment later Friday.
EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the regional recommendation was made public to ensure the review process is "as constructive and productive as possible."
"It is important to emphasize that this is only one step in the process," Gilfillan said in an e-mail. "EPA has not reached a final decision on this project."
The EPA's Office of Water gets the final say and will rule after considering the science and some 50,000 public comments on the mine.
Arch Coal plans to use a form of strip mining that blasts mountains apart at the top to expose multiple seams of coal. Excess rock and rubble are dumped into nearby valleys. It is both highly efficient and highly destructive.
EPA said it will reach out to Arch, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia officials to discuss potential ways to minimize the project's impacts.
"It's what we expected," Gov. Joe Manchin told The Associated Press. "It's very disappointing.
"This is a permit that has gone through more review than any permit in the nation," he said. "If that's the case, how could all of these agencies be wrong all these years."
Manchin sued the EPA earlier this month, seeking to overturn Obama administration policies aimed at curbing large-scale surface mining in Appalachia. He said Friday he expects governors from Kentucky and Virginia to join him in the litigation.
The mine was expected to employ up to 500 miners once it was fully operational. It was permitted three years ago but has been repeatedly delayed by lawsuits. Environmentalists challenged the corps' authority to issue Clean Water Act permits for large mountaintop removal mines.
The corps issued such a permit for the Spruce mine in 2007 after a lengthy process that included an EPA review. Earlier this year, under a new administration, EPA said it would exercise its legal authority to give that permit more scrutiny.
Under President Barack Obama, the EPA has adopted a policy designed to curtail surface mining by sharply reducing mountaintop removal in six states, including West Virginia.
Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin reached the decision on the Spruce No. 1 permit last month but only made it public Friday afternoon.
In March, EPA said it would veto the permit, and the following month, Arch sued. The St. Louis-based coal company argues the agency lacks the authority to revoke the permit after it's been issued.
Public hearings on the proposed action set off a fierce battle, with pro-industry forces accusing EPA of an illegal power grab and political machinations. Supporters of the veto called it a long overdue commitment to science, the environment and social justice in Appalachia.