Environment
1:17 pm
Tue April 23, 2013

Appeals Court Upholds EPA's Veto of W. Va. Mine Permit

A federal appeals court says the Environmental Protection Agency didn’t overstep its authority when it vetoed a permit for a coal mine in West Virginia.

The Army Corps of Engineers issued a water pollution permit to Arch Coal in 2007 for the Spruce Number One Mine, a 2300-acre mine in Logan County, West Virginia. It would have been the largest mountaintop removal mine in Appalachia. But four years later, the EPA vetoed the permit—only the 13th time its exercised its veto power since 1972.

Here's how Vicki Smith of the Associated Press summarized the proceedings:

Last fall, Arch argued that Congress never intended to give the EPA "unbridled power" over water-pollution permits for coal mines, and that final authority to issue, oversee and enforce permits issued under section 404 of the Clean Water Act lies solely with the corps.

The EPA countered that while the Clean Water Act lets the corps issue permits for the dumping of fill material, another section of the law gives the EPA the unambiguous right to "prohibit, deny, restrict or withdraw specification of fill disposal sites."

That power was created in a legislative compromise the EPA says was intended to let the agency do its job and prevent unacceptable environmental damage. The EPA says it can invoke that authority before, during or after the corps' permitting process.

Now, an appeals court has confirmed that the EPA acted appropriately and within the bounds of its authority when it vetoed Spruce’s permit. At the time, the agency said the mine would cause irreparable environmental damage and jeopardize the health of nearby residents.

Industry, politicians and state regulators wanted the appeals court to uphold a federal judge's ruling that EPA overstepped its authority.

Environmental groups were quick to comment on the ruling.  “The court said clearly what the law says clearly – EPA can act to prevent a dumping project whenever it determines unacceptable effects on a variety of important resources will occur,” said Jon Devine of the Natural Resources Defense Council.