Judge extends stay of Spruce Mine suit
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has agreed to continue his ruling suspending action in a lawsuit over the largest mountaintop removal mining permit in West Virginia history.
U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers extended his stay on the litigation for another four months, until Feb. 22.
The judge took the action to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more time to process its potential veto of the Clean Water Act permit issued by the federal Army Corps of Engineers for Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce Mine in Logan County.
Chambers ruled a little more than two weeks after the Obama administration EPA moved a step closer toward a historic veto of the nearly 2,300-acre permit to mine in the Pigeonroost Hollow area near Blair.
EPA Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin recommended the permit be vetoed, citing concerns that the mine would bury nearly 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, EPA said in a report on the mining proposal.
The potential veto is part of an Obama administration crackdown on mountaintop removal, in which agency officials say they are taking "unprecedented steps" to reduce adverse impacts.
Currently, EPA is taking part in legally required talks with Arch Coal to see if the possible impacts from the Spruce Mine could be reduced, as they have been with at least two other mining projects that have undergone detailed EPA review.
The Spruce Mine permit is pending in Chambers' court because environmental groups sued to stop it after a scaled-back version of the mine -- which has been the subject of controversy since at least 1998 -- was approved by the Corps of Engineers in January 2007.
EPA lawyers say there's no point in Chambers hearing arguments over the permit before agency officials complete their veto proceedings and either reject the operation or come up with a compromise. Arch Coal has argued against continuing the litigation stay, saying it wanted its day in court to defend the current permit.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.