Sen. Rockefeller pledges to fight mountaintop removal veto

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), an ardent defender of coal mining in his home state, promised Thursday to fight the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to veto a major mountaintop removal mining project.

Rockefeller said he is “deeply angered” by EPA’s decision to block the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia, marking the first time the agency has used its authority to halt a project that has already been approved. And he said, “The fight is not over.”

Rockefeller vented his frustration to President Obama himself in a letter Thursday. “I am writing to express my outrage with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to veto a rigorously reviewed and lawfully issued permit at the Spruce Number 1 Mine in Logan County, West Virginia,” Rockefeller wrote. “This action not only affects this specific permit, but needlessly throws other permits into a sea of uncertainty at a time of great economic distress.”



The lawmaker expressed confidence that the decision would be overturned by the courts. “Ultimately, this is a decision that has a strong chance of being overturned by the courts, and I will continue to do everything in my power to stand up for our West Virginia miners and their jobs,” he said.

Spruce No. 1 Mine was approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2007, but has long been held up in litigation. If approved, it would have been the largest mountaintop removal project in West Virginia.

Mountaintop removal mining is a controversial practice in which large chunks of a mountain are blown off in order to gain access to valuable coal reserves. Environmentalists have long objected to the practice, highlighting pollution in nearby rivers and streams.

The Sierra Club praised EPA’s decision Thursday. “In sharp contrast to the previous administration's policies on mountaintop removal coal mining, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson is showing a strong commitment to the law, the science and the principles of environmental justice,” Sierra Club Environmental Quality Program Director Ed Hopkins said. “She deserves enormous credit for changing policies to protect Appalachia's health, land and water."