Shutting Down a Coal Mine

Since 1998, environmental advocates have been trying to stop the Spruce Mine in West Virginia, which would have been one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains. Last week, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the water pollution permit issued for the mine by the Army Corps of Engineers, their efforts succeeded. At least for now. Even in its scaled-back form, the Spruce 1 Mine Project would have leveled more than 2,000 acres of mountains and destroyed more than seven miles of streams.

Now it’s been revealed that Arch Coal Inc., which owns the mine, could have offered a plan that cut damage to streams in half for a minor cost increase, but chose not to. A Freedom of Information Act request found that the engineering firm Morgan Worldwide developed an alternative plan for the mine for the EPA that would have cut stream burial from 8.3 miles to 3.4 miles, but would have also increased coal company costs by about 1%. Morgan Worldwide has worked alongside environmentalists as an expert witness in mountaintop removal suits and has helped “devise some stronger state regulations” in West Virginia, according to an article in The Charleston Gazette.

Ed Hopkins, Sierra Club’s environmental quality program director, said following the veto: “In sharp contrast to the previous administration’s policies on mountaintop removal coal mining, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is showing a strong commitment to the law, the science and the principles of environmental justice. She deserves enormous credit for changing policies to protect Appalachia’s health, land and water.”

SOURCES: The Charleston Gazette; Sierra Club; West Virginia Public Broadcasting.