UPDATE: Appeals Court Upholds EPA Ruling on W.Va. Mine

By: Cathleen Moxley; Andrew Colegrove; Michael Hyland; The Associated Press Email
By: Cathleen Moxley; Andrew Colegrove; Michael Hyland; The Associated Press Email

UPDATE 4/23/13 @ 2:24 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- A federal appeals court says the Environmental Protection Agency had the legal authority to veto permits for one of West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal coal mines.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday reversed a lower court's ruling and sent the case back for further proceedings.

In 2011, EPA revoked a water-pollution permit the Army Corps of Engineers had issued four years earlier to St. Louis-based Arch Coal for its 2,300-acre Spruce No. 1 mine.

EPA said destructive, unsustainable mining practices would cause irreparable environmental damage and threaten the health of residents nearby.

Industry, politicians and state regulators wanted the appeals court to uphold a federal judge's ruling that EPA overstepped its authority. They say EPA is preventing permits from ever being considered final.

UPDATE 3/23/12 @ 4:20 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- A federal judge says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority in revoking permits for what could now become West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal mine.

In a ruling Friday, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of St. Louis-based Arch.

She declares a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers water pollution permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County is "valid and in full force."

Arch spokeswoman Kim Link says the company is pleased with the decision.

The EPA vetoed the corps' permit for the mine in January 2011, saying it would cause irreparable damage to the environment.

The move enraged both the coal industry and West Virginia politicians, several of whom have since introduced bills to try rein in the EPA.

UPDATE 1/13/11 @ 11:30 p.m.
LOGAN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- It's supposed to be a big economic boost at a time when people need jobs, but it's being stopped.

Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would have provided about 250 jobs, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is vetoing a water permit.

In a news release issued Thursday, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter S. Silva said, “The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend.”

What angers some people is that the mine was permitted in 2007, though it had been delayed by lawsuits. Critics say Thursday’s announcement reflects a philosophical shift under the Obama administration more than it does legitimate concerns about the mine.

At the same time, environmental groups say the EPA made the right decision, and the dangers posed too many risks.

The nearly 2,300-acre operation would bury 7 miles of streams. EPA says it would likely hurt downstream water quality.

Arch has argued killing the project would hurt West Virginia's economy and tax base.

The St. Louis-based coal company has planned to invest $250 million in the project.

This is only the 13th time EPA has vetoed a water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Coal supporters were quick to fight back Thursday

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said, "They don't like coal in EPA. This administration doesn't like coal. They seem to care little about the people of West Virginia."

At a news conference, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) criticized the EPA, and said he’s considering proposing legislating that would strip the agency of some of its power.

"To bring this self-inflicted pain on top of all of that after it's gone through the process, is just more than I think any agency should have that power to do," says Manchin.

Opponents of mountaintop removal mining call the veto a major step towards victory.

"It's not the winning of the war, it's just the beginning of the new level of battle we have to face," says Larry Gibson, with the group Keeper of the Mountains Foundation.

But different people define this war in different ways.

Former Logan County Commission President Art Kirkendoll says he’s concerned about the loss of "…hundreds of support jobs, millions of taxation, just a huge economic impact for our county and more than that, just the uncertainty of permits in the future."

"It's arrogant. It's like a bully that comes in from Philadelphia and Washington and says we know better what you need in Logan County than you the people that live in Logan County," says Raney.

Gibson says, "It is a victory. But, it's not a victory that we should rest on and take it easy."

UPDATE 1/13/11 @ 2:45 p.m.
LOGAN COUNTY, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Arch Coal released the following statement Thursday afternoon regarding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision to revoke a permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County"

"We remain shocked and dismayed at EPA’s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit. Arch will continue to vigorously defend the permit, now in court, along with the right to have a predictable regulatory environment. Absent court intervention, EPA’s final determination to veto the Spruce permit blocks an additional $250 million investment and 250 well-paying American jobs. Furthermore, we believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future U.S. investment because every business possessing or requiring a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act will fear similar overreaching by the EPA. It’s a risk many businesses cannot afford to take."

UPDATE 1/13/11 @ 10:45 a.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WSAZ & AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is making good on a 9-month-old threat and revoking a permit for West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal mine.

The agency said Thursday that Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would cause irreparable damage to the environment.

The nearly 2,300-acre operation would bury 7 miles of streams. EPA says it would likely hurt downstream water quality.

Arch has argued killing the project would hurt West Virginia's economy and tax base.

The St. Louis-based coal company has planned to invest $250 million in the project, creating 250 jobs.

The mine was permitted in 2007 but has been delayed by lawsuits.

This is only the 13th time EPA has vetoed a water permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“This news is devastating to the Southern Coal Fields and our entire state. The Spruce Number One permit was issued years ago after undergoing a comprehensive permitting process," Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said. "It is hard to understand how the EPA at this late hour could take such a drastic action. We will continue with all efforts to get this decision reversed. Businesses need stability to succeed. I believe we can mine coal in an environmentally safe manner and I will continue to fight this decision.”

Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito told WSAZ.com that state and federal authorities need to strike a balance between environmental protection and economic development.
“For nearly a year, the EPA has kept the Spruce Mine Permit in limbo by continuing to delay action on the permit in question. As the EPA has been purposefully slow to act, hundreds of mining jobs have been put at stake." Capito said, "This action is hard evidence of the EPA’s anti-coal agenda, as well as their intent to use their regulatory authority to dismantle the coal industry. What’s more, this veto puts all previously issued permits at risk, casting a wide veil of uncertainly over not just coal, but any industry subject to 404 permits.”

Senator Jay Rockefeller also expressed concern over the decision on Thursday:
"I am deeply angered by the EPA’s decision to revoke the Spruce Mine permit,” said Rockefeller. “Their decision is wrong and unfair – Spruce Mine has always made good faith efforts to comply with the applicable laws and regulations. But this fight is not over. Ultimately, this is a decision that has a strong chance of being overturned by the courts, and I will continue to do everything in my power to stand up for our West Virginia miners and their jobs.”

"Today's EPA decision is not just fundamentally wrong, it is an unprecedented act by the federal government that will cost our state and our nation even more jobs during the worst recession in this country’s history," Senator Manchin said. "While the EPA decision hurts West Virginia today, it has negative ramifications for every state in our nation, and I strongly urge every Senator and every Member of Congress to voice their opposition."

Senator Joe Manchin is going to hold a press conference about the decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to retroactively veto a coal mining permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine. The press conference is set to start at 3:30 p.m.

UPDATE 10/15/10 @ 1:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is recommending revocation of a key permit for West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal mine.

Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin reached the decision after an initial review last month but only made the recommendation public Friday.

EPA says Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County has too great a potential to harm the environment and wildlife. It says the 50,000 public comments it got on the project only reinforced the concerns EPA first raised in October 2009.

The mine would encompass 2,278 acres and bury seven miles of headwater streams, potentially degrading water quality.

Arch Coal spokeswoman Kim Link says the company is still reviewing the decision.

UPDATE 9/30/10 @ 5:30 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency says an independent board is validating the science it used to create strict water-quality standards aimed at curbing mountaintop removal mining.

The EPA said Thursday the Science Advisory Board agrees with EPA's conclusion that valley fills raise conductivity levels in streams, and that threatens aquatic life.

EPA's assistant administrator for water, Pete Silva, says the draft report affirms that sound science is guiding EPA's actions.

The standards EPA set in April are designed to protect 95 percent of the aquatic species in streams in the six affected states - West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee.

The coal industry and West Virginia regulators have challenged EPA's approach.

UPDATE 9/24/10 @ 2 p.m.
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- The Environmental Protection Agency says a decision on the fate of West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal mine won't be coming for a while.

The EPA's Region 3 administrator was to send a recommendation about Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine to headquarters in Washington, D.C., Friday, but an agency spokeswoman won't say what it is.

She says it's part of the internal review process. The next stop is the Office of Water.

A final ruling will come sometime this fall.

EPA received more than 50,000 comments on its plan to veto a Clean Water Act permit that's crucial to the Logan County project.

EPA contends the nearly 2,300-acre mine would cause irreversible damage to the environment.

The mine was permitted in 2007 but has been delayed by lawsuits.

UPDATE 5/18 @ 11 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Hundreds of people packed into the Charleston Civic Center on Tuesday to speak out about the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to veto a mining permit for the Spruce Number 1 mine in Logan County. The mine would be the biggest surface mine in West Virginia. Some fear the move could signal the end of mining in Appalachia.

The permit was approved by the Army Corps of Engineers three years ago but the EPA said it plans to veto the permit because of water quality concerns. About eight miles of stream would be buried by the mine.

"EPA recognizes that coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation's energy scenario today and in the future," Regional EPA Administrator Shawn Garvin said at the public hearing. "However, EPA has a responsibility to prevent unacceptable damage that comes from mining activities."

But those in the coal industry and in coal communities fear the veto will have implications for all mines.

"If this stands and is not reversed it will be virtually impossible for any permits to be approved in central Appalachia," Wayne Coleman with Walker Machinery said during the hearing.

Others accused the EPA of over-stepping its bounds and targeting Appalachia. The agency released a set of strict standards about a month ago that mines have to meet to get permits. The standards only apply to mining in six states, including West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky.

"Has the EPA looked at anything in denying these permits?" One concerned citizen asked during the hearing. "It seems that the Obama administration is full of incompetence and people who don't even understand scientific data."

The Spruce Mine permit has been in the works for more than a decade. Supporters of the mine say hundreds of jobs are at stake.

Wilma Zigmond, Superintendent of Logan County Schools, was at the hearing and says she fears the impact the veto will have on schools, saying mining provides millions of dollars in funding.

"Coal keeps the lights on and schools running," Zigmond said. "Consider the losses both financial and emotional and the impact this will have on the Logan County school system and our families."

But there were others at the hearing who applauded the EPAs action and said it was a good move that protects the mountains, streams and people.

"It's not about our jobs, not about the loss of our jobs and it's not about shutting you down. It's just about the reality of the vital importance of clean water," one speaker told the panel.

Others say they are concerned about the damage done by surface mining.

"For the sake of the most greedy and destructive industry that I believe has ever existed, we are killing animals, demolishing plant life, destroying streams," Denise Jardina said.

One of the biggest roars from the crowd came when Bill Bissett with the Kentucky Coal Association warned the panel that there will be political consequences for the veto.

"We're going to be more politically active and if you don't believe me call Alan Mollohan right now because he's sitting at his house," Bissett said.

The EPA will continue to take comments in writing until June 1.

UPDATE 5/18 @ 10:10 a.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Coal producers and environmentalists are planning to give the Environmental Protection Agency an earful about the fate of what would be West Virginia's largest surface coal mine.

The agency is holding a public hearing on St. Louis-based Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 mine at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Charleston Civic Center.

The EPA says it's going to veto the water quality permit granted for the Logan County mine in 2007. The problem? EPA says Arch plans to bury 7 miles of intermittent streams with mine waste and that would hurt water quality.

Environmental groups and coal industry associations from West Virginia and Kentucky say they're planning to testify as well as hold rallies.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – State officials are blasting the EPA for what they say is an unnecessary holdup that could lead to the disappearance of hundreds of potential jobs.

The federal agency announced its intention to veto a permit for a Logan County mine which has already been through years of litigation.

"This thing's been going on for many years,” Gov. Joe Manchin said, “and it's gone through all different types of appeals, and more appeals, and court, and every other different venue."

The EPA now says it will veto the Spruce No. 1 surface mine's water quality permit, meaning the largest ever proposed surface mine in the region might never be more than a proposal.

"For this to happen with so many jobs on the line, I told her (EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson) I was very discouraged and very upset about this," Manchin said.

In a statement released Friday, EPA Administrator Shawn Garvin said, "We must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution - and the damage from this project would be irreversible."

In their report the agency listed numerous issues they had with the mine, but state officials say they aren't being clear enough.

"We've just got to get a clear direction, we just can't continue in West Virginia with the uncertainties that go with these types of decisions,” Manchin said. “I'm still hopeful that we can get parties together and get something progressive moving."

Logan County Commission President Art Kirkendoll says the veto could mean a huge blow to the county's revenue.

"It’s probably a quarter of a billion dollars in the region as far as sales and vendors and taxes and everything," he said. "It's just a devastating, huge financial impact."

Now the EPA will hold a 60-day comment period before it makes a final decision.

Gov. Manchin says he's in the process of trying to get a meeting between Lisa Jackson and Steve Lear, who's the head of Arch Coal, the company that owns the mine. He's hoping they can finally reach an agreement that will allow the mine to open.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is recommending the veto of a water quality permit for West Virginia's largest surface mine.

Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin says talks with Mingo Logan Coal Corp. failed to produce an agreement to reduce potential environmental and health effects at the Spruce No. 1 mine.

EPA's proposal was issued Friday, the deadline set by a federal judge for the agency to make a decision.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the permit in 2007. But EPA said it wanted to exercise its authority under the federal Clean Water Act to review the permit further.

Garvin says EPA will hold a 60-day comment period on its recommendation before it makes a final decision.

Statement from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito
"Today's announcement by the EPA to begin the veto process for the Spruce Mine permit confirms what many have long suspected: the Agency has no regard for the economic hardship created by their policies, or for the judgment and authority of the state and federal agencies involved.

"I am extremely disheartened by the Administration's unprecedented decision to revoke this highly reviewed permit. For nearly a decade, the Army Corps of Engineers—with the EPA’s input—rigorously reviewed the environmental impact of expanding the Spruce Mine before lawfully issuing the permit. What’s to stop the EPA from going after more permits that have already been issued and are fully operational? This action disregards the expertise of both the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Corps, and puts all of West Virginia miners at risk of losing their jobs.

“These are not abstract consequences in some far away land; these are our friends and neighbors who are losing their jobs for no other reason than because a faceless bureaucracy says so. The EPA should let our people work.

"As the veto process advances, it is my hope that the EPA reevaluates their position on the Spruce Mine and honors their original permit commitment. It is imperative that West Virginia mining families have security in this difficult economic time.”

Statement from Senator Jay Rockefeller
“I have said this before, and will say it again: it is wrong and unfair for the EPA to change the rules for a permit that is already active.

“The Spruce Number 1 Mine has made good faith efforts to comply with all applicable laws and regulations, and I believe the EPA should honor their commitment in return. I will continue to push EPA officials until we can find a workable, long-term solution.”

Statement from U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall
“This is an unprecedented, unjustified and undeserved decision and I completely disagree with it as I told EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson directly. The owners of the Spruce Mine worked in good faith over the course of many years with State and Federal permitting agencies, including the EPA, and the permit was issued after the conclusion of a full environmental impact statement. To come back now and pull the rug out from under this mining operation is unconscionable.”

Statement from Gov. Joe Manchin
“EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson this morning informed me of the EPA’s proposed veto of the Spruce No. 1 mine permit. I have also spoken with Steve Leer, CEO of Arch Coal, about the impact of this decision.

“I am obviously very disappointed, because, the way it stands now, it means a major loss of potential jobs.

“However, it is my understanding that the door is not completely closed on this process and Arch Coal will now need to look at its options on moving forward with continued discussions.

“I am still hopeful that something can be worked out. As governor, I will continue to do everything in my power to protect and create jobs for West Virginians.

“Coal is essential to our state’s economy and to our nation’s energy future, so we must continue to find the balance between our environment and the jobs that this reliable and affordable source of energy creates.”

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