So begins the EPA’s war on coal; Update: Top EPA water official resigns day after permit revocation announcement

Posted on January 13, 2011


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Who needs a cap and trade bill when you can use the EPA instead?  Today, the Obama administration, through the power of the EPA, has revoked the mining permit for one of the biggest coal projects in the U.S.:

The Environmental Protection Agency said it was revoking the permit granted to the Spruce Number One mine in West Virginia, which would have involved blasting the tops off mountains over more than 2,200 acres, because it would inflict “unacceptable” damage to surrounding valleys and streams.

 The agency said it was the first time it had revoked a previously issued permit in 40 years, but it said the action was warranted because the environmental damage was truly unacceptable.

 The decision was immediately criticised by West Virginia leaders and mining lobby, and sets the stage for a broader confrontation between the EPA and the empowered Republicans in Congress over the limits of government regulation.

 In its decision, the EPA said the project would have dumped millions of tons of mining waste into healthy waterways, burying 6.6 miles of streams and completely killing off fish, salamanders and other wildlife that live in them.

 Mining waste dumped in the rivers would also compromise water quality for locals, the EPA said.

 “The proposed Spruce Number One mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardise the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend,” the agency’s assistant administrator for water Peter Silva said in a statement. “We have a responsibility under the law to protect water quality and safeguard the people who rely on clean water.”

The project had been approved by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2007, but has been held up by lawsuits from environmentalists.  Arch Coal had planned to invest $250 million in the project and create 250 jobs, but you can kiss those goodbye, at least for now.   

Newly elected Democratic Senator Joe Manchin called the action “an unprecedented power grab, period.”  But the environmentalists are ecstatic:

But Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called it “a strong commitment to the law, the science and the principles of environmental justice.”

And Janet Keating, executive director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said EPA is validating what her organization has long argued: “These types of mining operations are destroying our streams and forests, and nearby residents’ health.”

The EPA claims it has the legal authority to do this to protect “water quality, wildlife and people.”

The EPA said this is only the 13th time since 1972 that it has used its Clean Water Act veto authority, and the first time it’s acted on a previously permitted mine. (emphasis mine)

Given President Obama’s earlier admission of being willing to bankrupting the coal industry, don’t expect this to be the last time the EPA uses its authority in such a manner.

UPDATE:

Just a day after the announcement of the Spruce mine’s permit revocation by the EPA water division, the top man in that division has resigned.  There’s no obvious link that the two stories are related; the timing is just curious:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s top water official is resigning.

Pete Silva, the agency’s assistant administrator for water, will leave his post in February to return to California with his family, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced today in a staff email obtained by POLITICO.

The announcement comes a day after one Silva’s biggest policy decisions. Thursday, EPA revoked a permit for one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines ever proposed in Appalachia, revising a 2007 decision by the George W. Bush administration and marking the first time the agency had revoked a mine’s Clean Water Act permit after it had been finalized.

Silva is also leaving in the middle of a major revision of the agency’s water policy. EPA is currently developing an internal guidance on which types of waterways are subject to federal permitting requirements, a move that follows a pair of Supreme Court decisions in recent years that ruled the agency had overstepped its bounds. The revision is currently under White House review, and a draft is expected to be released no sooner than March.

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