Despite EPA Veto, Mountaintop Removal Continues at West Virginia’s Largest Surface Mine
The Spruce No. 1 mine is perhaps most famous for being the first and only mine in history to have its US Army Corps of Engineers 404 permit vetoed by the US Environmental Protection Agency over violations of the Clean Water Act. If constructed, it would be the largest mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia, spanning 3,113 acres and creating six valley fills that would permanently fill six miles of streams, and directly impact more than ten miles of streams.The EPA’s landmark decision was hailed by environmentalists as a great victory, and as a signal that the EPA would use it’s authority under the Clean Water Act to end the illegal practice of burying streams under hundreds of feet of mining spoils. Yet since 2007, the Spruce No. 1 mine has produced 1.58 million tons of coal and employed an annual average of 24 miners, and to those who live below the mine it seems as if Arch Coal is acting like the permit was never vetoed at all.
On Sunday, February 20th, Climate Ground Zero’s investigative team went to the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia to do a citizens’ site inspection. Here is what we saw.
All Photographs (c) Antrim Caskey, 2011
“They are going forward as if the permit hadn’t been denied.” –Jimmy Weekley
In the struggle to end mountain top removal, we don’t often have occasions to celebrate, so the December 18th announcement that the Environmental Protection Agency had vetoed the permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia was reason to pop the champagne corks. After all, this was the largest mountain top removal operation ever approved by the EPA, covering an area larger than Pittsburgh. And it seemed to signal a sea change for the way the EPA does business. Up until then the EPA had approved every mine permit that they reviewed since 1972, when the agency was created to enforce the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other laws passed by Congress in the wake of the Santa Barbara oil spill, the Cuyahoga River fire and a slew of other environmental disasters that had captured the nation’s attention during the turbulent 1960s.
Certainly if you were reading the headlines, checking your e-mail, or getting the numerous fund raising appeals from well meaning environmental groups claiming victory you would be right to believe that here was a victory grasped from the jaws of defeat, a testament of the strength of our movement and our ability pressure the government to enforce the laws. It was the death of mountain top removal.
Our Friends from Rainforest Action Network staged a sit-in this morning at EPA Headquarters, where activists occupied the lobby and used metal lock boxes to lock themselves together. The sit-in was to bring attention to EPA’s newly approved Pine Creek mountaintop removal permit in Logan County, West Virginia. This was a horrendous first decision,after last April it was anticipated that the EPA was going to be enforcing stricter MTR guidelines.
Photo by Chris Eichler Copyright Rainforest Action Network