EPA takes key step toward blocking W.Va. coal project

The Sept. 24 determination by EPA Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin, made public Friday, would veto a 2007 permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va. If fully constructed, the mine would encompass about 2,300 acres and bury about 7.5 miles of streams, according to EPA.
 
The mine would bury not only the streams but also the creatures that live in them and “would likely have unacceptable adverse effects on wildlife,” EPA said.
 
EPA’s next step will be to talk to Arch Coal, the Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia state officials “to engage in discussions about potential actions that
 can be taken to reduce impacts to the environment and to the waters that Appalachian communities depend on for drinking, swimming and fishing,” according to the agency’s statement.
 
But the writing appears to be on the wall for the project, and Arch Coal is already threatening to “defend its permit vigorously” through litigation, if necessary.
 
“If the EPA proceeds with its unlawful veto of the Spruce permit — as it appears determined to do — West Virginia’s economy and future tax base will suffer a serious blow,” the company said in a statement. 
 
“Absent court action, the EPA veto would prohibit Arch Coal from investing an additional $250 million in a state-of-the-art mining operation in Logan County — an operation that would create 250 well-paying jobs and that would generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues in a region that desperately needs both.”
 
EPA’s efforts to regulate the coal industry have emerged as a top election-year issue in the West Virginia Senate race between Gov. Joe Manchin (D) and Republican businessman John Raese. Manchin expressed disappointment with the EPA’s initial ruling on Friday.
 
“It’s what we expected,” Manchin told The Associated Press. "It's very disappointing.”
 
During his Senate campaign, Manchin has worked to distance himself from the Obama administration on environmental issues. Last week, Manchin announced he is suing EPA over a separate water-quality guideline the agency issued in April covering mountaintop removal and other coal-mining practices. He told AP Friday he expects the governors of Kentucky and Virginia will join him in that lawsuit. Raese accused Manchin of political opportunism in timing the lawsuit mere weeks before the election and also sought to tie his policies to the administration's climate agenda.
 
Manchin has sought to advertise to voters his disagreements with the administration on climate policy. He unveiled Monday a statewide TV ad depicting him loading a rifle and shooting a hole through a piece of paper meant to symbolize last year’s House cap-and-trade bill.