Washington Post: The Environmental Protection Agency took the unusual step of revoking a permit Thursday for the country’s largest surface mine, a setback for the controversial practice of “mountaintop removal” that helps produce 10 percent of the nation’s coal.
The 2,300-acre operation at the Mingo Logan Coal Co.’s Spruce No. 1 coal mine in West Virginia has been mired in litigation since 1998.
The EPA’s decision could affect dozens of other mining projects across Appalachia, where firms have been blasting the peaks off mountains for years to reach coal seams and then depositing the remaining rubble in surrounding valleys. While the federal government issued permits for hundreds of these activities under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, the EPA adopted new environmental guidelines in April and is now reviewing 33 other pending permits.
The EPA’s assistant administrator for water, Peter S. Silva, said the Spruce No. 1 coal mine … “would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend.”
…The EPA used its authority under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act – which it has used only 12 other times in its history – to argue that the subsequent valley fills would harm the area’s water quality, habitat and wildlife.