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EPA Vetoes Largest Mountaintop Removal Permit: New Era of Civility in the Coalfields?

It's been a long time coming. Now it's final. Lisa Jackson and the
EPA have gone to the mountaintop and announced their veto of the largest
mountaintop removal mining permit in Appalachia.

"This ushers in a new era of civility in the coalfields," said long-time coalfields justice leader Bo Webb. He added: "I think Judy Bonds just sent us all a little smile," referring to the recent passing of the "godmother" of the anti-mountaintop removal movement.

Invoking the rule of law and science in the central Appalachian
coalfields, the EPA just announced its long awaited and extensively
researched decision today to veto the 2,300-acre mountaintop removal
mining permit at the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia. Basing their
ruling on 404 (c) of the Clean Water Act, the EPA concluded that the
proposed mine would have "unacceptable adverse effect on municipal water
supplies, shellfish beds and fishery areas (including spawning and
breeding areas), wildlife, or recreational areas."

This final determination overrules the Army Corps of Engineer's earlier approval of the Logan County mine.

In addition, the EPA noted:

The project, as permitted, will bury 6.6 miles of
Pigeonroost Branch, Oldhouse Branch, and their tributaries under excess
spoil generated by surface coal mining operations. These streams
represent some of the last remaining least-disturbed, high quality
stream and riparian resources within the Headwaters Spruce Fork
sub-watershed and the Coal River sub-basin and contain important
wildlife resources and habitat. The quality of these streams is
comparable to a West Virginia-designated reference site, and the
macroinvertebrate communities found in these streams, which are used as
an indicator of quality, rank extremely high in comparison to other
streams throughout the Central Appalachia ecoregion and the state of
West Virginia. These streams perform critical hydrologic and biological
functions, support diverse and productive biological communities,
contribute to prevention of further degradation of downstream waters,
and play an important role within the context of the overall Headwaters
Spruce Fork subwatershed and Coal River sub-basin.

Charleston Gazette journalist Ken Ward has posted the EPA decision here. Ward quotes Peter S. Silva, EPA's assistant administrator for water, on today's 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. Coal and coal mining
are part of our nation's energy future, and EPA has worked with
companies to design mining operations that adequately protect our
nation's water. We have responsibility under the law to protect water
quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.

Living under a mountaintop removal operation in the Coal River Valley, anti-mountaintop removal movement leader Webb noted today:

This is very good news to so many people who live directly
beneath mountaintop removal operations. It is encouraging to see the
EPA exercise their authority to enforce the Clean Water Act. I hope the
EPA will continue its obligation to enforce the Clean Water Act and the
Clean Air Act, to protect the people in Appalachia mountain communities.

This decision will not be without critics in the coal industry,
including Big Coal-bankrolled political allies like Acting Governor Earl
Ray Tomblin, who repeated his support for his state's current lawsuit against the EPA on mountaintop removal permits in his State of the Union speech last night.

During his recent US Senate campaign to replace the venerable Sen.
Robert Byrd, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin even fired a rifle in a campaign ad,
declaring: "I'll take on Washington and this administration to get the
federal government off of our back and out of our pockets. I'll cut
federal spending and I'll repeal the bad parts of Obamacare. I sued EPA
and I'll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill."

Noting the growing and deadly health care and water crises in the
coalfields, Webb called for a new era of civil discourse in the debate
over mountaintop removal mining, which has left the area in economic and
environmental ruin, and a move toward a just transition to clean energy
investment in his region.

Webb added: "Our children's future depends on it. I call upon the
EPA, in the interest of public health to now issue an immediate
moratorium on all mountaintop removal operations."

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