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W.Va. delegation asks White House to review EPA over Spruce Mine

Read the letter

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., joined with six Republican House members on Friday in calling for a White House review of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's handling of the largest mountaintop removal mining permit in West Virginia history.

Two other Democrats -- Rick Boucher of Virginia and Alan Mollohan of West Virginia -- also signed the letter. Both lost re-election bids earlier this year and won't be returning to the House.

The letter, also signed by West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, objects to EPA's proposed veto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

"It is imperative to the coal miners and communities of our region and the economic well-being of this nation that these actions be considered and reviewed in full," the letter said.

The potential EPA 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.

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.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers has suspended litigation over the Spruce Mine until Feb. 22 to give EPA time to make a final decision.

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.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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