MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin said today his first piece of federal legislation will seek to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency and prevent retroactive permit vetoes like the one issued against a mountaintop removal coal mine in southern West Virginia.
Last week, the EPA vetoed a federal Clean Water Act permit issued long ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Arch Coal's proposed Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County. The agency ruled that destructive and unsustainable mining practices at what could have been the state's largest mountaintop removal operation would cause irreparable environmental damage and threaten the health of communities around the nearly 2,300-acre site.
Environmental activists who have fought mountaintop removal for years praised the decision as vindication of their battle. They said today that Manchin should be putting people harmed by air and water pollution ahead of corporate profits.
"His first piece of federal legislation should be to call for an immediate moratorium on all mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia in the interest of public health,'' said Bo Webb, of Coal River Mountain Watch. "He needs to stop supporting a mining activity that is killing the citizens he was elected to protect.''
Mountaintop removal is a highly efficient but particularly destructive form of strip mining that blasts apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating so-called valley fills.
St. Louis-based Arch was not the only one outraged by EPA's action. It brought swift condemnation and harsh words from across the mining industry, as well as from Manchin, who was governor, and other politicians who have long supported it.
Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has scheduled a rally at the Capitol in Charleston for this afternoon to remind the EPA of coal's importance to the nation, and activists on both sides are expected to attend.
Manchin, who will also be at the rally, said the EPA's veto of a permit that had been subjected to a rigorous, 10-year review has broad implications beyond coal mining and other energy industries. The ability to revoke such permits also threatens the agriculture, home-building and transportation sectors, he said.
The Spruce permit was approved after a review that included a multimillion-dollar environmental impact statement, a court challenge and assessments by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the corps and the EPA itself, Manchin said.