Three cheers for the Region 3 office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which last week moved closer to revoking the federal permit issued in 2007 to Arch Coal to blow up a mountain in West Virginia.
The massive Spruce No.1 Mine in Logan County, one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed in Appalachia, would destroy 2,278 acres of temperate rainforest and bury more than 7 miles of streams. On October 15, EPA regional administrator Shawn Garvin recommended that his agency "veto" the Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce mine -- an unprecedented action to stop a previously approved project -- due to concerns about significant water quality damage, among other environmental and health concerns.
We here at NRDC, along with our grassroots allies and concerned citizens fighting for justice in the coalfields of Appalachia, applaud EPA for making the right decision. Mountaintop removal is the most extreme strip mining on the planet, one that has already flattened some 500 Appalachian peaks and polluted nearly 2,000 miles of waterways. Stopping the Spruce mine is entirely justified and, we believe, sets a precedent to halt every other pending mountaintop removal permit. This reckless destruction of America's oldest mountain range has to end.
As might be expected, the coal barons and their political allies are hopping mad about EPA's decision on the Spruce mine and, in fact, about every effort taken to date by the Obama administration to curtail this controversial mining. They see these sensible, modest regulatory steps as more than just an affront to Appalachia's monoeconomy; to industry proponents this is nothing less than a "war on coal."
With the exception of a few elected leaders in the region who have qualms about leveling Appalachia -- most notably U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) -- by and large local elected leaders are eager to do the bidding of Big Coal. Look no further than the candidates running for U.S. Senate in Kentucky.
It's too bad that for too long the fate of the Appalachians has been in the hands of politicians from that region who are willing to raze those majestic mountains in order to be able to raise campaign cash from coal companies. Despite intense political pressure on the Obama administration, particularly EPA, the Spruce mine may not proceed. That's good news for the mountain -- and the communities that treasure their mountain home. Let's hope this is a turning point in the fight to preserve Appalachia's remaining mountains, which are more precious than the coal that lies beneath their peaks.