Wednesday, March 31, 2010

EPA Proposes Veto of West Virginia Mine Permit Under the Clean Water Act

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its proposal under the Clean Water Act to significantly restrict or prohibit mountain top mining at the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan County, W. Va. Spruce No.1 mine is one of the largest mountaintop removal operations ever proposed in Central Appalachia. The project was permitted in 2007 and subsequently delayed by litigation. The Spruce No. 1 mine would bury over 7 miles of headwater streams, directly impact 2,278 acres of forestland and degrade water quality in streams adjacent to the mine.

EPA's proposed determination comes after extended discussions with the company failed to produce an agreement that would lead to a significant decrease of the environmental and health impacts of the Spruce No. 1 mine. EPA has used its Clean Water Act veto authority in just 12 circumstances since 1972 and never for a previously permitted project. The proposed determination identifies numerous potential adverse impacts associated with the Spruce No. 1 project including water quality impacts, fish and wildlife impacts, mitigation impacts, and cumulative mining impacts.

Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404(c) authorizes EPA to restrict or prohibit placing certain pollutants in streams, lakes, rivers, wetlands and other waters if the agency determines that the activities would result in "unacceptable adverse impacts" to the environment, water quality, or water supplies. This authority applies to proposed projects as well as projects previously permitted under the CWA. A final decision to restrict or prohibit the Spruce No.1 mine will be made at EPA Headquarters based on a recommendation from the Regional Administrator, public comments, and discussions with the Army Corps of Engineers and the Mingo Logan Coal Company.

The proposed determination is being published in the federal register and EPA is taking public comment for 60 days. EPA is also scheduling a public hearing in West Virginia to provide an additional opportunity for public input.

The proposed determination: http://www.epa.gov/region03/mtntop/spruce1documents.html

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