If it were ever possible or even realistic to put the words Appalachia and victory in the same sentence, this might be one of those rare times: the Environmental Protection Agency‘s Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin has recommended the withdrawal of the mining permit for the nation’s largest proposed mountaintop removal coal mine site, the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia.
If Garvin’s decision, released in an 84-page report on Friday, becomes the final EPA say about Spruce No. 1, the mine’s owner, Arch Coal, will be barred from disposing mining waste in the state’s streams. This will effectively block operation of the mine.
A year ago the EPA determined that Spruce No. 1 “raised significant environmental and water quality concerns” and halted further action on the company’s Clean Water permit process. A subsequent legal maneuver appeared to set the stage for EPA and Arch to work out their differences regarding Spruce No. 1 and for EPA to determine if a revised mining plan could be developed that would comply with the Clean Water Act.
But Garvin’s report said the mine should be halted because “mitigation is not likely to offset anticipated impacts.”
If allowed to proceed, Spruce No.1 would clear more than 2,200 acres of forest, bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, and contaminate the downstream water supply. In mountaintop coal removal, the tops of mountains are literally blasted away to get at the coal seams below.
A statement issued by Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune praised Garvin and the EPA for “staring down Big Coal and industry lobbyists and doing what’s right for Appalachians and hardworking Americans everywhere.
“While the coal industry has been cutting jobs and cutting corners in Appalachia, clean energy and efficiency investments there could generate almost 80,000 jobs by 2030 and save consumers more than $25 billion in energy costs.”
And Jon Devine, a senior NRDC attorney said the EPA “has embraced science and given hope to Appalachian communities under siege by mountaintop removal mining. The science shows that mountaintop removal coal mining causes harm to irreplaceable resources that cannot be minimized to an acceptable degree. It is without question that the EPA has done the right thing with regard to the Spruce mine. But more needs to be done — mine waste dumps in Appalachian streams must stop.”
Kim Link, a spokesperson for Arch Coal said in a statement that the company will “vigorously” challenge the Garvin recommendation.
A coal industry organization, the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, played the jobs card in decrying the decision. “This is another job destroying attack from the EPA on West Virginia and Appalachia,” said Bryan Brown, executive director of West Virginia FACES of Coal. “To veto an already approved permit, costing these communities hundreds of new, good paying jobs and millions in needed tax revenue is just absurd and more importantly illegal. Our elected leaders can’t let bureaucrats in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. dictate how West Virginians support their families. Taking these jobs and economic investment away from Logan County is a travesty. The mine was properly permitted. Let our people work.”
As the Sierra Club indicates there are much better ways of working and providing 250 jobs than blowing the tops off of mountains, destroying health and habitats, and contaminating streams.