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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exceeded its authority last year in revoking water pollution permits for what could now become West Virginia’s largest mountaintop removal coal mine, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., ruled Friday.
In siding with St. Louis-based Arch Coal, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson declared the permits were valid. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had issued the permits for the 2,300-acre Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County.
The EPA didn’t immediately comment, but Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said the company was pleased with the decision. So, too, was the West Virginia Coal Association, which applauded the court “for taking EPA to task for overstepping its authority in order to wage a regulatory war on the West Virginia coal industry.”
Vice President Jason Bostic said the EPA “employed magical thinking” to obtain a result the judge declared “illogical and impractical.”
“The judge accurately equated EPA’s actions to that of a ‘disappointed player’s threat to take his ball and go home when he didn’t get to pitch,’” he said.
The EPA in January 2011 used its veto power for only the 13th time since 1972 to overturn a permit the corps had issued under the federal Clean Water Act. It was the first time the EPA had acted on a previously permitted mine.
The agency said at the time it reserves that power “for only unacceptable cases.”
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.
As Arch envisioned it, the Spruce mine would have buried seven miles of streams. It planned to invest $250 million in the project, creating some 250 jobs, but the mine has been delayed by lawsuits since it was permitted.
EPA ruled that destructive and unsustainable mining practices would cause irreparable environmental damage and threaten the health of communities nearby.
Mining already under way in a small portion of the Spruce site wasn’t affected by the EPA ruling, but it prohibited new, large-scale operations in other areas.
The veto move enraged both the coal industry and West Virginia politicians, several of whom have since introduced bills to try rein in the EPA.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a former governor, took the issue on in his first piece of federal legislation.