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EPA to appeal court decision on Spruce Mine

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Obama administration has filed court papers indicating it plans to appeal a judge's ruling that overturned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's veto of the largest mountaintop removal mining permit in West Virginia history.

Late Friday, Department of Justice lawyers filed a short notice that EPA would challenge a late March decision that threw out EPA's veto of the Clean Water Act permit for Arch Coal Inc.'s Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

The appeal goes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson had ruled that EPA is not authorized to withdraw a Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permit that was already issued by the federal Army Corps of Engineers.

Environmental groups have been trying to stop the Spruce Mine since 1998, when it was first proposed as a 3,113-acre extension of Arch's Dal-Tex Mine that would have buried more than 10 miles of streams.

At issue now is the permit, approved by the corps in January 2007, for a scaled-back version, a 2,300-acre operation that would bury more than seven miles of streams. The mine eventually would employ 250 workers and mine about 44 million tons of coal over about 15 years.

In January 2011, EPA vetoed the permit, citing "destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and the clean water on which they depend." A report prepared for EPA by a mining engineering firm found Arch could have reduced environmental impacts without significantly increasing mining costs.

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


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