The big news late Friday afternoon was that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it had moved to veto the Clean Water Act permit for the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia history — and the largest MTR mine in Appalachia. As readers of the Yonder know, coal companies using this technique cut off the tops of mountains down to the coal and then push the leftover rock and soil down into the valleys below. As usual, our go-to guy for this coverage is Ken Ward Jr. of the Charleston Gazette.
Environmentalists and landowners in West Virginia have been protesting MTR mines for years, claiming they ruin streams and landscapes. They've been battling this mine since '98. Arch Coal's Spruce Mine would have buried more than seven miles of West Virginia streams, according to an EPA press release. It also would have employed hundreds of miners. That has set up a debate about the environment and employment among everyone involved: the federal government, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts, the coal industry and the courts.
Arch Coal was "shocked that EPA would take such an action in light of the strong support for the Spruce permit voiced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers" and West Virginia. Gov. Manchin said, "To say that I am mad would be an understatement." Environmental groups have been pressing the Obama administration to be stronger in opposing MTR mines. They apparently have gotten their wish. Now we'll wait to see how this plays politically in a state that Obama lost by 13 percentage points in 2008.