In late March, a federal court ruled to open the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, WV, to mountaintop removal coal mining. The EPA had originally vetoed the permit back in January of 2011, explaining that the destructive practices of mountaintop removal would endanger communities' health and access to clean water.
The permit authorizes the largest single mountaintop removal site in West Virginia's history.
Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the EPA overreached when it tried to revoke the permit using the laws of the Clean Water Act. Berman declared,
“It posits a scenario involving the automatic self-destruction of a written permit issued by an entirely separate federal agency after years of study and consideration. Not only is this nonrevocation-revocation logistically complicated, but the possibility that it could happen would leave permittees in the untenable position of being unable to rely upon the sole statutory touchstone for measuring their Clean Water Act compliance: the permit.”
Local citizens and environmental groups expressed dismay at the decision, while industry reps rejoiced.
The ruling came on the heels of the second anniversary of the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster, which killed 29 miners. Caused by the ignition of high methane levels, investigations later determined negligence and overt safety violations by Massey Energy led to the explosion.
Arch Coal, the company that owns the Spruce mine permit, was reportedly “pleased” with the decision, while The New York Times editorial urges the Obama administration to appeal.
“The administration must appeal. The Clean Water Act is on its side, as are the people of West Virginia,” the Times editorial notes.