CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Arch Coal Inc. could have cut the stream damage from its proposed Spruce Mine in half without significantly increasing coal-production costs, according to a previously secret engineering report prepared for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Permanent and temporary stream burial could have been cut from 8.3 miles to about 3.4 miles under one alternative mining plan developed for EPA by engineer John Morgan of the Lexington, Ky.-based firm Morgan Worldwide.
The alternative mining plan would have raised production costs for Arch subsidiary Mingo Logan Coal Co. by 55 cents per ton, about 1 percent of the expected per-ton sales price, according to the report obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.
In the 48-page report dated Sept. 23, 2010, Morgan Worldwide outlined a variety of mining plan changes aimed at reducing the proposed Spruce Mine's overall environmental impacts. The highest rated alternative would have involved dumping all of the waste rock and dirt from mining into the Seng Camp watershed, where mining was already underway through a 2007 deal with environmental groups.
"This analysis of the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit demonstrates that an alternative mine design can meet the project objective and is practicable, in so much that it is capable of being done using existing mining technology," said the report, titled "Spruce Mine Process Technical Review."
Morgan's firm has designed mining projects around the world. In West Virginia, the company helped devise some stronger state regulations and has been an expert witness for environmental groups fighting mountaintop removal. More recently, Morgan helped Hobet Mining rework its proposed Hobet 45 permit along the Boone-Lincoln County border to obtain EPA approval of its "dredge and fill" Clean Water Act permit.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal apparently did not adopt the recommended changes for the Spruce Mine, and last week EPA officials revoked the operation's Clean Water Act permit, citing "destructive and unsustainable mining practices" proposed by the company.
EPA officials also cited the company's "failure to adequately evaluate less environmentally damaging alternatives" to the 2,300-acre proposal that ranked as the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.
"The permittee has presented only limited alterations to the permitted project that it believes would likely result in environmental improvements," EPA said in a 99-page decision document outlining its decision to veto the permit. "EPA has repeatedly stated its belief that there are alternative mine design and construction practices that would further reduce aquatic resource impacts, while allowing the majority of coal present on site to be mined in a cost effective and technically feasible manner."
West Virginia political leaders have harshly criticized EPA for its action against the Spruce Mine, and the EPA decision prompted Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to announce a "rally for coal" Thursday at the Capitol. Supporters of the Spruce Mine have not publicly questioned whether the company could -- or should -- have done more to reduce the project's impacts.