Saturday, October 17, 2009
From the Charleston Gazette-mail:
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers processes about 80,000 Clean Water Act permits every year, but the EPA has used its veto power only 12 times since 1972 -- and has never used it to block a coal-mining permit.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration moved a step closer on Friday to cancelling a Clean Water Act permit for the largest mountaintop-removal mine in West Virginia history.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials cited their "very serious concerns regarding the scale and extent of significant environmental and water-quality impacts" from Arch Coal Inc.'s proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
In a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, EPA regional administrator William E. Early formally warned that his agency was prepared to block the Spruce Mine permit unless its impacts are further reduced.
"While we recognize that the project has been modified to reduce projected impacts . . . there is the potential for its associated discharges to cause further stream degradation," Early wrote.
Early said EPA experts remain concerned that the 2,300-acre Spruce Mine will damage downstream water quality and add to cumulative environmental damage in a heavily mined area. The EPA also said the permit does not contain adequate measures to mitigate environmental damage or spell out what steps would be taken should water-quality impacts occur.
"EPA has worked hard to assess the effects of surface coal mining on water quality in streams below mining activities," Early wrote. "What we have learned is compelling and further substantiates the scientific literature that points to a high potential for downstream water quality excursions under current mining and valley fill practices."
Early's letter gives the corps and Arch Coal subsidiary Mingo Logan 15 days to respond before the EPA issues a notice that would kick off a public-comment period, the next step in the legal process for the EPA to overrule the corps' decision to grant the Spruce Mine permit.
Under the Clean Water Act, the corps generally processes "dredge-and-fill" permits that allow coal operators to bury streams with waste rock and dirt, but, Congress gave the EPA broad authority to overrule the corps if it believes serious water-quality damage could be avoided.
Before it can formally veto the Spruce Mine permit, the EPA would need to accept public comment and give the corps and the company at least two more chances to fix the permit's problems.
Although the corps processes about 80,000 Clean Water Act permits every year, the EPA has used its veto power only 12 times since 1972 -- and has never used it to block a coal-mining permit.
In his letter, Early told the corps that the veto threat on the Spruce Mine "reflects the magnitude of anticipated direct, indirect and cumulative adverse environmental impacts associated with this mountaintop removal operation...