Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 5, 2012

Arch: Appeals panel should uphold rebuke of EPA

BLAND, Va. —

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Arch Coal Corp. says Congress never intended to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "unbridled power" over water-pollution permits for coal mines, and an appellate court should uphold a judge's ruling that EPA overstepped its authority in vetoing them for one of West Virginia's largest mountaintop removal operations.

Final authority to issue, oversee and enforce permits issued under section 404 of the Clean Water Act lies solely with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, not the EPA, St. Louis-based Arch argues in a 175-page response to EPA's appeal. The document was filed with the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia on Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in March that EPA had overreached in the case of the 2,300-acre Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, a ruling praised by industry and the politicians who support it.

Last month, however, five environmental groups argued the EPA did have the power to veto the permits. They also contend that Jackson improperly considered the potential economic implications when ruling otherwise.

Arch counters by saying that giving EPA "perpetual and unrestricted" license to modify permits after they're issued would destroy the certainty the permit is intended to give the mining industry.

"Congress did not give EPA such unbridled power," it argues.

In January 2011, the EPA revoked a permit that the corps had issued four years earlier to Arch and its Mingo Logan Coal Co. subsidiary. The EPA concluded that destructive and unsustainable mining practices would cause irreparable environmental damage and threaten the health of communities nearby.

Mountaintop removal is a highly efficient but destructive form of strip mining that blasts apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple coal seams. The resulting rock and debris is dumped in streams, creating so-called valley fills. Spruce No. 1 would have buried nearly 7 miles of streams.

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