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EPA Nixes Mountaintop Mining Project

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In a potentially precedent-setting reversal, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Jan. 13 revoked permits for West Virginia’s 2,200-acre Spruce No. 1 Mine project, effectively scuttling one of the country’s largest mountaintop-removal mining proposals, CNN and other news outlets reported.

Environmentalists had been fighting the project for years. The Sierra Club called the ruling a relief but said it should be replicated around the country.

“Unfortunately, the Spruce Mine’s impacts are not unique,” said Joe Lovett, lawyer and executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, in a Sierra Club statement. “Although we are grateful for the EPA’s action today, the EPA must follow through by vetoing the scores of other ... permits that ... would allow mountaintop mines to lay waste to our mountains and streams.”

Arch Coal Inc., the St. Louis–based company that was proposing the mine, said it would impede the coal industry and that the local economy would lose $250 million and 250 jobs, CNN said.

“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,” Arch Coal spokesperson Kim Link said in a statement. “It’s a risk many businesses cannot afford to take. We remain shocked and dismayed at EPA’s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit.”

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A trade group, FACES of Coal, called the decision “the EPA’s assault on the U.S. economy.”

It was only the 12th time the EPA has ever rescinded a permit since 1972, CNN said.

Native Americans have a long history in West Virginia, though today the population consists of about 5,000 individuals of Native American descent, according to the West Virginia government’s Division of Culture and History. Nevertheless Native American opposition to mountaintop mining in general has been strong.

The initial permit was granted in 1998 under the Bush administration. But activists fought it all the way.

Mountaintop mining entails removing the top of a mountain to expose coal seams, pulling out the coal, then returning as much material as possible to approximate the original contours of the peak. Excess is disposed of in adjacent valleys and is known as valley fill, the EPA site said.

In reversing its earlier decision, the EPA said that blasting 2,200 acres of mountains and forests would have created more than 110 million cubic yards of waste that would have buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County and killed fish, small invertebrates, salamanders and other wildlife, CNN reported. In addition it would have sent toxic levels of selenium into downstream waters, turning fresh water salty, the EPA said. And using storm water ditches to compensate for natural stream losses would not “adequately mitigate” the loss of those waterways, CNN said.