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A 2010 demonstration at the White House demanding an end to mountaintop removal.

A 2010 demonstration at the White House demanding an end to mountaintop removal.  (Photo: Rich Clement via Rainforest Action Network/flickr/cc)

Victory for Clean Water, Blow to Mountaintop Removal in West Virginia

Federal judge upholds EPA's veto of immense coal mine

Andrea Germanos

Appalachia scored a victory for clean water and public health this week.

In the latest development in ongoing legal challenges, a federal judge has upheld a veto by the Environmental Protection Agency of a permit for one of the biggest mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia.

Arch Coal's Mingo Logan had challenged the 2011 decision by the EPA to veto, using its authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers for the Spruce Mine in Logan County.

But the EPA's decision to veto the permit based on "unacceptable adverse effects" of the project, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson stated in her ruling (pdf) delivered Tuesday, "was reasonable, supported by the record, and based on considerations within EPA’s purview."

Community and environmental groups welcomed the decision.

The "court victory is a win for all Americans who believe our children deserve clean water and healthy lives without facing the increased threats of cancer, birth defects and early mortality associated with mountaintop removal coal mining," stated Emma Cheuse, an attorney with environmental group Earthjustice who argued on behalf of several Appalachian groups.

"Now that a court has affirmed EPA’s decision to prevent the unacceptable devastation this practice causes in this important instance, we need EPA to do its job across the board to protect Appalachian communities before the coal industry destroys more waterways, communities and unique natural areas for good," Cheuse stated.

Appalachian and environmental groups have for years highlighted the dangers—to water, wildlife and human—of mountaintop removal.

Nonprofit organization Rainforest Action Network has described the practice, in which "the coal industry literally blows the tops off the mountains: clear-cutting forests, wiping out natural habitats and poisoning rivers and drinking water," as "one of America’s worst environmental crimes."


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