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EPA Challenges Mountaintop|Coal Mine in West Virginia

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is trying to restrict or prohibit the largest mountaintop-removal surface mining project in the country - the Spruce No. 1 coal mine in Logan County, W. Va. The EPA has authority under the Clean Water Act to veto or modify decisions of the Army Corp of Engineers, but it has used that power only 12 times. This is the first time the EPA has sought to veto an already permitted project.

The Spruce Fork Watershed already has been damaged by mining, the EPA says.

In 2007, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorized the Mingo Logan Coal Co. to construct six "valley fills" that would bury more than 7 miles of headwater streams with mining material.

The EPA says that permit would deforest 2,278 acres and contaminate downstream surface waters with selenium, aluminum and other metals, which would cause additional harm to the Little Coal River watershed, one-third of which already is environmentally impaired.

The Obama administration has taken a much tougher stance on coal mining than the Bush administration did. The new administration has ordered a review of all surface mine permits.

In the fall of 2009 the EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Army Corps of Engineers developed an interagency plan to reduce the environmental impacts of coal mining.

But EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Gavin added that "coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation's energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward."

After a 60-day public comment period, the EPA expects to issue a final determination that will either veto the 2007 permit or modify it to mitigate the environmental damage.

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