[singlepic id=68 w=300 float=right template=caption]Pigeonroost Hollow, W.Va. — The coal industry is always talking about jobs as if that is the only important issue in Appalachia. For the sake of these jobs, we must sacrifice the mountains and streams, and we must poison the air and water, and destroy the local communities? What is the true cost of these jobs and what is the real impact of these jobs on Appalachian communities and the Appalachian environment?
On January 13, 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the Clean Water Act Section 404 “dredge-and-fill permit” for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Spruce No. 1 Mine would have been the largest mountaintop removal (MTR) mine in US history. Predictably, the coal industry decried the loss of the 250 jobs the mine would have provided over its 15-year lifespan. The EPA, they claimed, had declared war on coal, and war on West Virginia’s economy.
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The Spruce No. 1 Mine has been the most contested coal mine in US history. It would impact 3,113 acres of Appalachian hardwood forests, create five massive valley fills, permanently burying six miles of mountain headwater streams under hundreds of feet of toxic mine spoils, and directly impact another ten miles of streams, all to mine 44 million tons of coal. The Spruce No. 1 Mine has been in operation since 2007, and currently employs 24 people or about a tenth of the total proposed workforce, and has an annual production of about 600,000 tons of coal.
To put this in perspective, last year the US burned about 965 million tons of coal to make electricity; at this rate the Spruce mine would provide less than one month’s worth of electricity for the nation over its entire 15-year lifespan.
Environmental groups have opposed the Spruce No. 1 Mine since it was first proposed as an extension of Arch Coal’s Dal-Tex Mine in 1997. The original plan would have buried more than 10 miles of stream in the Pigeonroost Hollow area near the town of Blair, West Virginia. In Bragg v. Robertson the EPA joined the West Virginia Highland Conservancy and other environmental groups in challenging the legality of the 404 permits. In 1999, U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II agreed with the plaintiffs, and after making a personal visit to the mine site and walking the creeks, Haden issued an order blocking the Army Corps from issuing any more 404 permits.
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Judge Haden’s decision was immediately attacked by the coal industry and West Virginia’s political leaders and they appealed to the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals where Haden’s injunction was stayed and the case was remanded back to the US District Court. Arch Coal agreed to delay opening the Spruce No. 1 Mine until the courts could decide on the legality of the 404 permits.
After more legal wrangling, the Army Corps issued the 404 valley fill permits for a scaled down version of 2,300 acres on January 22, 2007. The permits authorized the discharge of fill material into over seven miles of creeks, and the company began mining in Seng Camp Creek, including construction of one valley fill, and has expanded every year since opening.
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