I’ve been very critical of the EPA’s inability to follow the science on mountaintop removal, and halt the destructive practice. However, it’s worth highlighting this recent positive piece of news. According to Solve Climate, the EPA has “raised the bar for mountaintop mining today with a proposal to stop or at least significantly restrict one of Appalachia’s largest and most disputed mining operations, the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va.”
Below is an excerpted chunk of their article, and I’d suggest checking it out for some great context of the entire situation.
“The sprawling Spruce No. 1 mine site, already in operation, has been a point of contention and lawsuits from environmental groups for over a decade. EPA has gone back and forth with the Army Corps of Engineers over whether the owner, an Arch Coal subsidiary, would cause too much damage to the state’s waterways with its mining plan. In 2007, however, the Corps and the state of West Virginia moved ahead, authorizing mining to begin.
While the Corps has the authority to approve mining permits, EPA has veto power when it reviews environmental impact statements, and that’s what it is proposing to use now. It has used that authority only 12 times and never before for an already permitted mine like Spruce No. 1.
EPA Regional Administrator for the Mid-Atlantic, Shawn Garvin, said his agency tried to work with the mining company to decrease the environmental and health risks from the project but the talks failed.
“Coal, and coal mining, is part of our nation’s energy future, and for that reason EPA has made repeated efforts to foster dialogue and find a responsible path forward. But we must prevent the significant and irreversible damage that comes from mining pollution — and the damage from this project would be irreversible,” Garvin said. “EPA has a duty under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on these waters for drinking, fishing and swimming.”
In the proposed determination released today, Garvin wrote: “EPA believes that the predicted impacts from the Spruce No. 1 mine, if constructed as currently authorized, could have unacceptable effects on wildlife and fisheries.” He talked about the degradation of water from mining debris that is dumped into streams with unearthed metals and elements, such as selenium, which can cause birth defects in fish. The dumping of mining debris in streams also destroys habitat relied upon by the region’s salamanders, fish and smaller creatures, such as insects that are key elements in the food chain for birds, bats and other animals, he wrote. And pollutions would become a problem downstream from the valley fills and could contribute to conditions that support golden algae blooms, which release more toxins dangerous to aquatic life. There is a cumulative impact that needs to be considered, he said.
It is important to remember that the streams that would be filled with debris from Spruce No. 1 mining, particularly Oldhouse Branch and Pigeonroost Branch, currently “are generally healthy, functioning streams with good water quality,” Garvin wrote.
This is a region of West Virginia where state officials, in a 1997 assessment, identified as a priority the need to “locate and protect the few remaining high-quality streams.” The Coal River sub-basin has had more than 257 past and present mining permits, collectively occupying some 13 percent of the land, according to the EPA. At the same time, the area has about 51 species listed as endangered, threatened or state rear species, and many of them rely on aquatic ecosystems for their lifecycle.
“The streams that will be buried cannot be viewed in a vacuum,” Garvin wrote. “When those streams and wildlife are buried, there will be effects to downstream waters and downstream wildlife caused by the removal of functions performed by the buried resources and by transformation of the buried areas into source that may contribute pollutants to downstream waters.”