Saturday, June 10, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

EPA Pulls Plug on W. Va. Mine Via Clean Water Act

(CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency revoked a permit that would have allowed West Virginia miners to bury about 7 1/2 miles of streams beneath 110 million cubic yards of mining waste.

Mingo Logan Coal obtained the permit in January 2007 to build six valley fills near several streams in Logan County, Va., for the planned Spruce No. 1 Surface Mine.

EPA decided on Thursday to halt the project under the Clean Water Act because of environmental and concerns, including "unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife," the pollution of downstream waters and watershed degradation.

The agency found that these problems cause unhealthy levels of salinity and selenium, and pose a threat to wildlife and water quality. Veto power is only used in "unacceptable cases," according to the EPA, and yesterday's decision marks the 13th time the agency has wielded veto authority since 1972.

"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," EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva said in a statement.

Scientific studies, a public hearing and more than 50,000 public comments formed the basis of the agency's decision. The EPA said that Mingo Logan did not propose any new mining configurations after the agency submitted a recommended determination in September 2010, which found that the project as authorized would endanger the environment.

Several environmental groups had filed suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers when it issued the permit in 2007, but the project moved tentatively forward. In 2009, the 4th Circuit ruled that the project could go ahead without a harder look at the environmental impact.

Mingo Logan has been building one valley fill near the Seng Camp Creek drainage area, and the EPA says it used data from those operations to make its ruling.

EPA noted that it worked with another West Virginia mining company last year to reduce the impact on water quality and increase coal production.

Some of West Virginia's top elected officials feel that the EPA acted beyond its authority, according to media reports.

"This news is devastating," West Virginia acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin told the Associated Press. The Spruce No. 1 permit was issued years ago and it's hard to understand how the EPA at this late stage could take such a drastic action."

The AP also reported that the St. Louis-based coal company had planned to invest $250 million in the project and create 250 jobs.


Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.