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EPA vetoes mega mountaintop-to-moonscape project

Melissa Waage

Posted January 13, 2011

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In these times, all too often “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity” (hat tip: William Butler Yeats).  And in these times, our government sometimes deserves praise for working just as it is supposed to.

That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency deserves a big thank you for vetoing the Spruce 1 mountaintop removal mine in Logan County— a ruinous Goliath of a strip mine, one of the largest ever permitted in West Virginia.  (See NRDC senior attorney Jon Devine’s statement on the veto here.)   This decision gives hope to people across Appalachia who are fighting to defend their homes, their water supplies, and their mountains against this most devastating form of strip mining.   

The veto withdraws the Spruce 1 project’s Clean Water Act permit to dump mining waste into Logan County waterways, and stops MTR there (at least for now).  Throughout the permitting process for this mine, EPA had raised concerns about the scale, water quality and wildlife impacts, environmental justice implications, and cumulative impact of the mine combined with other mining activity in the area. 

Here’s what EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Silva had to say about the veto decision:

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… We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.

EPA has every right in the world to veto this project.  It was the right thing to do.   But it still wasn’t the easy thing to do.  As my colleague Jon Devine put it, “in the face of the political and industry forces pressuring EPA to ignore the damage this mine would cause and let it go forward, it took guts for the agency to follow the science and the law.”

In December, West Virginia’s congressional delegation (and a couple other coal country reps) sent letters asking EPA not to veto the permit. And just yesterday, a consortium of other regulated industries like agribusiness and real estate development piled on with their own letter to EPA.   

Their chicken-little fears of a mass revocation of permits are unfounded.  EPA has made clear that its veto is amply supported by science, legally authorized, and that actions like this “are taken only where environmental impacts are truly unacceptable and will use this authority only where warranted by science and the law.” In fact, EPA has used this authority only 13 times since the enactment of the Clean Water Act.

Bottom line: There are upper limits, under the law, on how much coal companies can pollute and degrade our waterways.   Mountaintop removal has already destroyed or buried over 2000 miles of streams in Appalachia, harming countless communities.  And much of the damage can’t be mitigated or reversed, ever.

EPA can do a lot of good continuing to work just as it is supposed to: applying science and the law to mountaintop removal, and protecting Appalachian communities from devastating, irreversible consequences.

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Beth PriceJan 13 2011 01:41 PM

Thank goodness the EPA vetoed it! I can't begin to imagine the damage that would've caused to the ecosystem there. Not to mention the eye sore it would've been for the people who live there.

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