"The proposed surface mine is an extremely large project near the community of Blair in Logan County," wrote Thomas Maslany, EPA's regional water division director.
"It includes excavation of more than 400 feet of overburden material to remove 10 seams of coal in a 5-square-mile area," Maslany wrote. "Four major valley fills of excess overburden are planned, the largest of which will cover approximately one and two-thirds miles of the main channel of Pigeonroost Branch."
Federal regulators have 90 days to provide the state with a more detailed objection to the Arch permit.
The state Division of Environmental Protection has 90 days from June 3 to submit to EPA a new permit for the Massey mine that would meet federal regulators' approval.
DEP Director Michael Miano said he hopes to be able to work the permit out in negotiations with EPA and Massey subsidiary Independence Coal.
According to a letter filed with DEP June 3, EPA will take over legal authority to issue or deny the Massey permit if DEP doesn't come up with an acceptable version.
McCabe said Friday that, if EPA takes over the permit, the issuance of the permit would constitute a "major federal action" requiring an environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Environmental impact statements examine the impacts on environmental resources, such as streams and forests, and weigh them against the economic benefits of a project such as a coal mine or a highway.
"If that happens, that is a long, extensive process which involves public participation and comment periods," McCabe said.
"Nothing could happen - no mining could happen - until the process was completed, and that could take years," he said.
McCabe noted that the last time EPA proposed an environmental impact statement for a strip mine was more than 20 years ago, when a mine was proposed at the head of the Little Kanawha River near Holly Grove in Upshur County. EPA proposed such a study only after tremendous pressure from citizens and a lawsuit by environmental groups.
In that case, the company dropped its mining plans.
"We're doing what we said we were going to do," McCabe said. "We're looking at each and every permit."