Landmark EPA Ruling Revokes a Mountaintop Removal Mine's Permit

By Andrew Moseman | January 14, 2011 2:29 pm

Relations have been more testy than usual between the Environmental Protection Agency and mountaintop removal coal miners since last April, when EPA issued new rules to crack down on the practice. This week the agency went one step further—a step has never taken before. EPA revoked an already-approved permit for a mountaintop removal coal mine in West Virginia.

The decision to revoke the permit for Arch Coal Inc.’s Spruce Mine No. 1 in West Virginia’s rural Logan County marks the first time the EPA has withdrawn a water permit for a mining project that had previously been issued. It’s also only the second time in the 39-year history of the federal Clean Water Act that the agency has canceled a water permit for a project of any kind after it was issued, according to the agency. [Wall Street Journal]

The mine, located south of the West Virginia capital of Charleston, has been fighting to begin operation for more than a dozen years.

The Obama EPA began looking more closely at the Spruce Mine in September 2009.  But debate over the proposed operation dates back to the late 1990s, when then-U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II issued an injunction that blocked the mine, which then was proposed for more than 3,000 acres. After the Haden ruling, the company reduced the size of its proposal and the operation underwent much more intense scrutiny, in the form of a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement by the Corps of Engineers, which approved the new mining configuration in January 2007 [Charleston Gazette].

EPA, however,  says that evidence gathered since that 2007 permit (issued under the more lax Bush administration EPA) shows that the mine would cause enough damage to the streams, watershed, and habitat in the area to prevent it from passing the Clean Water Act’s muster.

We already knew the Obama EPA would be discriminating in allowing any new mountaintop removal mines. But now that EPA has taken the rare step of revoking a permit, are other such already-permitted projects in danger of losing their right to operate?

The EPA’s decision could affect dozens of other mining projects across Appalachia, where firms have been blasting the peaks off mountains for years to reach coal seams and then depositing the remaining rubble in surrounding valleys. While the federal government issued permits for hundreds of these activities under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, the EPA adopted new environmental guidelines in April and is now reviewing 33 other pending permits. [Washington Post]

Related Content:
80beats: Happy New Year, Planet! EPA Rules on Greenhouse Gas Emissions Take Effect
80beats: Coal Lawsuit Puts EPA’s Moutaintop Removal Rules on Trial
80beats: New EPA Rules Clamp Down on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
80beats: Obama Proposes Oil & Gas Drilling in Vast Swaths of U.S. Waters
80beats: Scientists Demand End to Mountaintop Decapitation; Mining Projects Advance Anyway

Image: Wikimedia Commons / JW Randolph

MORE ABOUT: coal, EPA, legal matters, mining
  • coryy


    I still cry when I see my grandfather’s missing mountain and all the missing trees. Mountaintop removal is vile, period. I hope this is the beginning of serious consequences for mining companies.

  • JMW

    What concerns me about this is the politicization of the EPA – the agency responding to political directives from ideologically driven administrations. The regulatory environment hasn’t changed, i.e., the laws and rules are still the same, the EPA is just responding to directives from the administrations on HOW to apply those laws and regulations.

    Being an idealist, I’d prefer to see the administration leave the bureaucracy alone to do its job independent of political ideology; and if they have a problem with the actions of an agency, then they change the laws or regulations that the agency enforces. But that would probably cause all sorts of public relations problems…and so they go through the back door and corrupt the public administration.

  • John Lerch

    JMW you’ve got it BACKWARDS. IT was the BUSH admin that politicized the procedure failing to enforce the rules.

  • scott

    Whatever, whoever, as long as they do more, anything, to help stop or slow that process down…even if one mountain is saved, not a lot of them currently being formed in that area as far as I know…

    I had an argument with a family member in Texas over the holidays (big, obese, proud texan that thinks the world is ours to develop and use as we please) who thinks endless developement, growth, “progress” is a great thing. Gone are the days in rural central Texas when I was growing up there….very independent people, who minded their own business and loved their large expanses of oak and cedar covered limestone hills with hidden canyons, creeks and waterfalls. They liked hunting and growing things. The woods were packed with ringtails cats, racoons, fox…even porcupines. Now, they prefer bulldozed hills (they level off the tops of many around Austin too to build tuscan style estates) covered in houses and strip centers filled the same chain stores and I can go days and nigths there and never see any of these creatures anymore, save a few dead on the busy, antsy highways.

    Just time to save whatever we can..and ask ourselves how happy all this progress, all this abundant energy to move move move really makes us. It boils down to endless, abundant shopping, movies, eating processed foods…that’s where our progress has lead us.

  • Matt in California

    I think it should be illegal for them to change their minds like this.

    They have no clue as to how business-crushing it is, when businesses have no faith that when they are given permits, THEN invest possibly millions of dollars, the government can still say ‘oops, changed our minds” and pull the rug out from under you.
    All those jobs will either go away, or go overseas.

  • guineapigdude

    Matt the jobs are not going to go over seas, it would cost to much money to bring back the coal, as far as i know almost all the coal come from this continent, so from here, Canada, or Mexico.


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