Focusing on the Fills

Mountaintop removal coal mining has devastated one million acres in the central and southern Appalachian Mountains.©

For the first time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will revoke a permit it had issued for a West Virginia surface mine. In reexamining the permit, the EPA found that the mine could violate the Clean Water Act, giving the agency "serious concerns," according to acting EPA Regional Administrator William Early. The permit, issued in 2007, pertains to Mingo Logan Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine, and gave permission for the company operating the mine—Arch Coal—to fill in surrounding valleys with mine waste—a destructive practice that environmentalists have long condemned. It was slated to be the "largest authorized mountaintop removal operation in Appalachia" according to an Associated Press report, an area where streams are already widely affected by mining operations and where 12 more mining projects have been proposed.

Early wrote that this unprecedented action from the EPA last Friday "reflects the magnitude and scale of anticipated direct, indirect, and cumulative adverse environmental impacts associated with this mountaintop removal mining operation."

Officials from Arch Coal said that they were "shocked" in a statement, countering that it was ""the most carefully scrutinized and fully considered mine permit in West Virginia’s history," taking almost 10 years," according to the article.

The permit had covered some 3,113 acres, and allowed Arch Coal to dump mine waste in over 10 miles of streams. The current permit, the report notes based on Army Corps of Engineers and state DEP records, allows dumping in almost seven miles of streams.

And the permit reversal seems to signal a new vigilance on the part of the EPA in regard to mining operations, just as environmental groups are spreading publicity about the devastating long-term effects of mountaintop removal mining (see E"s extensive coverage of coal activism in the September/October 2009 issue, "Is This the End for Coal?”.

The Sierra Club sees the move as a first step toward the eventual end of mountaintop removal mining.

SOURCE: Associated Press