EPA Approves One New Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine, Finds 'Path Forward' for Second

mountaintop removal coal mine photo
Six days into 2010 and the battle over mountaintop removal coal mining is set to start up again. Yesterday afternoon the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had found "a path forward on two coal mining operations in West Virginia." The two operations are both mountaintop mines, one in Lincoln County, one in Logan County. By early evening green groups, from the establishment to grassroots, denounced the EPA decision.

Hobet 45 Given Clean Water Act Green Light
The mine in Lincoln County is the Hobet 45 mine, operated by Hobet Mining. It was approved--technically the EPA has told the US Army Corps of Engineers that it supports issuing a Clean Water Act permit--after "extensive discussions...resulted in additional significant protections against environmental impacts." EPA says the redesigned project will eliminate "nearly 50% of stream impacts, reduced anticipated stream contamination, and protect public health." This decision clears the way for final federal approval.'We're Shooting Ourselves in the Future'
In response, Bill Price, environmental justice organizer for the Sierra Club in West Virginia, said:

We understand that this short term deal means more mining and destruction, but also the extension of employment to mine workers, we know that mountaintop removal coal mining is not a a long-term economic strategy for Appalachia.

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's Janet Keeting put things a bit more bluntly:
Sadly, the coal industry's undue influence over decision-makers has traded people's health, communities, and water for profit. We're shooting ourselves in the future. After all the coal has been mined, what kind of economic development can happen when the water is unfit to drink and people have been driven away?

Spruce No. 1 Decision Delayed Until March
The Logan County operation is the Spruce No. 1 mine, operated by Arch Coal subsidiary Mingo Logan Mining Company. The environmental impact of the mine, one of the largest proposed in Appalachia, has the project tied up in federal court. Lawsuits have delayed the project for the past decade.

Mingo Logan and the EPA asked for and were granted an extension to try to work out what can be done to bring the project into compliance with the Clean Water Act. As a result no additional work can be done at the site until March 1, 2010. Should an agreement not be reached by that time, the EPA can restrict or prohibit mining activity at the site.

Thousands of Acres of Forest to be Destroyed
If allowed to proceed Spruce No.1 will clear 2,200 acres of forest, bury more than seven miles of headwater streams, and further contaminate downstream water supply.

Which probably actually understates the problem. Here's Joan Mulhern of Earthjustice, speaking about the approval of Hobet 45:

There is no excuse for approving this permit when the science is clear that mountaintop removal coal mining permanently destroys streams. The administration claims to be making progress on mountaintop removal, but in reality they are still following the flawed policies put in place by the Bush administration. It is time for them to make a commitment to ending this abominable practice.

For those interested: EPA letter about Hobet 45 [PDF]

photo: Aaron via flickr.
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