EPA has consistently raised significant questions about the Spruce Mine's potential impacts for years, but only last fall under the Obama administration actually took the rare step of trying to veto a corps' dredge-and-fill permit approval.
Environmental groups have been trying to stop the Spruce Mine since 1998, when it was proposed as a 3,113-acre extension of Arch's Dal-Tex Mine that would bury more than 10 miles of streams in the Pigeonroost Hollow area near Blair.
U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II blocked the permit in 1999, putting more than 300 United Mine Workers members at Dal-Tex out of their jobs. Since then, Arch has transferred the permit to its nonunion arm and the Spruce Mine has undergone a much more detailed environmental impact study.
In January 2007, the corps issued a scaled-back version of the Spruce Mine, a 2,300-acre operation that would bury more than 7 miles of streams. Since then, the permit has been tied up in court, with Arch Coal operating on a limited scale with a few dozen workers.
The Clean Water Act gives EPA authority to prohibit dumping of waste into streams -- including "withdrawing the approval" for such dumping -- if the agency believes the dumping will have "unacceptable adverse effect" on water supplies, fisheries, wildlife or recreational areas.
But Arch's suit contends EPA can't take away a permit once it's issued, calling it "unlawful, arbitrary and capricious, an abuse of discretion." Likewise, Arch argues the corps has determined it has no grounds for suspending the permit under its regulations.
"The EPA has left us with no other choice," Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said. "We plan to vigorously defend the validly issued Spruce permit by all legal means, starting with the complaint filed today in U.S. District Court."
The EPA had no immediate comment.
In its filing before Judge Chambers, Mingo Logan argued that continued delays in deciding the Spruce Mine case "will cause real economic harm to Arch and its current and future employees.""Because of the stay in this court, 90 percent of the reserves at Spruce No. 1 remain in the ground," the company said. "Mingo Logan does not know when it will be able to mine those reserves, and without knowing when it will be able to mine, it is economically impractical for Mingo Logan to invest in additional infrastructure, equipment and personnel that would allow Mingo Logan to mine the coal from Spruce No. 1 more efficiently and at a lower cost per ton."