Court upholds EPA veto in mountaintop removal mining case

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) won another legal round a case regarding its controversial veto of a West Virginia mountaintop removal mining permit.

The case has attracted national attention over the EPA’s authority to retroactively revoke water pollution permits.

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A federal District Court judge ruled last Tuesday that the EPA 2011 veto was “reasonable, supported by the record, and based on considerations within EPA’s purview.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson also ruled that the EPA’s veto did not represent an illegal reversal of a decision four years earlier not to block the Army Corps of Engineer’s permit.

The Army Corps grants permits for projects that could harm waterways, such as mountaintop removal mining, which can fill in streams or otherwise alter them, and the EPA can veto permits under the Clean Water Act.

The fight over Arch Coal Inc.’s proposed Spruce Mine No. 1 has attracted the ire of coal interests and pro-coal lawmakers, who contend that the EPA overstepped its authority by blocking a permit years after it was issued.

It directly led the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to pass a bill to restrict the EPA authority to veto permits retroactively.

After losing in a lower court, Arch Coal had appealed to the Supreme Court for its argument that EPA cannot block permits after the fact. The Supreme Court declined earlier this year to hear the case.

Tuesday’s court ruling centered on the substance of the EPA’s veto, not its timing.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said officials are still reviewing the ruling, but are “pleased that the court upheld EPA's decision to use the Clean Water Act in this case.”

Environmentalists cheered the ruling.

“Today’s court victory is a win for all Americans who believe our children deserve clean water and healthy lives without facing the increased threats of cancer, birth defects and early mortality associated with mountaintop removal coal mining,” Emma Cheuse, an attorney with Earthjustice who represented local interest groups in the court proceedings, said in a statement.

“This is great news for people living in mountain communities,” said Bill Price, a West Virginia-based coordinator with the Sierra Club. “Once again the courts have upheld the right of the EPA to act. Hopefully the administration will now move forward and take actions that Appalachian activists have asked for.”