Friday, March 26, 2010

EPA makes first move to formally veto a permit for a mountaintop-removal coal mine

The Envirionmental Protection Agency started a process today that could result in its first formal veto of an Army Corps of Engineers water-pollution permit for a mountaintop-removal coal mine, and it involves one of the largest such mines and one of the nation's largest producers, Arch Coal.

EPA said in a press release that it acted "after extended discussions with the company failed to produce an agreement that would lead to a significant decrease of the environmental and health impacts of the Spruce No. 1 mine," in southern West Virginia's Logan County. Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin said environmental damage from the Spruce Mine would be "irreversible." As permitted, the mine would cover 2,278 acres and affect seven and a half miles of streams.

"This EPA notice starts another long process of review and debate — including a mandatory public hearing if EPA finds a significant degree of public interest — before EPA would actually veto the permit," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette notes on his Coal Tattoo blog. "Department of Justice lawyers have filed papers asking U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to stay legal proceedings — in a case where environmental groups challenged the Corps’ approval of the Spruce Mine — pending completion of EPA’s possible veto action." (Read more)

EPA Region 3 says in its "proposed determination" that the agency's process could have three outcomes: denial of any permit, issuance of "a modified permit with more environmentally protective conditions" or an EPA decision that the current Corps permit "is sufficiently protective" after all. (Read more)

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