Read the EPA recommendation here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration has moved another step closer to blocking the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history, with a veto recommendation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's regional administrator.
EPA Region 3 administrator Shawn Garvin urged his agency's national office to throw out approval of a Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.
In an 84-page report with four appendices, Garvin outlined the EPA's concerns that the nearly 2,300-acre mine would bury seven miles of headwater streams and pollute waterways downstream from the mine site.
Garvin also warned that the mine would add to deforestation and to other damage that mountaintop removal already is doing to coalfield communities across the region.
The Spruce Mine would "eliminate the entire suite of important physical, chemical and biological functions" of affected streams and "likely have unacceptable adverse effects" on wildlife, the EPA said in its report.
Garvin issued his recommendation to EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson three weeks ago, but agency officials had refused to publicly release it until pressured to do so by a federal judge.
The EPA said in a statement that a final decision is expected later this fall, but agency lawyers on Friday asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to extend a stay on litigation over the permit for 120 days -- until Feb. 22, 2011.
Agency spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said the EPA asked for the longer court stay in case of "any unanticipated issues or additional significant information" that arise during talks with Arch Coal.
"[The] EPA's next step will be to reach out to the mining company, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia state officials to engage in discussions about potential actions that can be taken to reduce impacts to the environment and to the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing," Gilfillan said.
In the past year, EPA efforts have produced two mining permits in which much of the coal reserves could be mined, while impacts on water quality were significantly reduced.
Arch Coal already has sued the EPA in federal court over the agency's handling of the Spruce Mine permit. Company spokeswoman Kim Link said an EPA veto of the permit would mean that any legally issued Clean Water Act permit "can be revoked at any time according to the whims of the federal government."
Rep. Nick J. Rahall, a Democrat who represents Logan County, said the EPA action on the Spruce Mine "sets a disturbing precedent for the course of coal mine permitting that will undermine the confidence of investors and intensify the concerns of miners already on edge about the future of their careers."
Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps of Engineers generally reviews and approves "dredge-and-fill" permits that allow mining operators to bury streams with millions of tons of waste rock and dirt. Congress gave the EPA broad authority to step in -- at any time, even after permits are issued -- and block such waste dumping if it believes the damage is too great or could have been avoided.