Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in West Virginia would have been one of the largest mountaintop removal projects in Appalachia, destroying over 2,000 acres of forest, burying miles of streams, and polluting watersheds. But, in a historic decision, the EPA has vetoed the mine’s Clean Water Act permit.
This is the first time the EPA has issued a veto on a project that has already been permitted. (The mine was approved during the Bush era and has been held up in courts since.)
Speaking of courts, I’m not a legal expert (someone who is may want to comment), but it’s hard for me see why it would even be possible to give a “Clean Water” permit for a project like this. According to the EPA, the Spruce mine would have buried more than 35,000 feet of streams under 110 cubic yards of mining waste. Obviously, this would eliminate all forms of life from the streams. It would also poison downstream ecosystems and communities.
If a Deepwater Horizon-style accident caused destruction like that, we’d call it an environmental disaster. Conservation volunteers would try to rescue wildlife. Nonprofits would raise money to help the impacted communities. The tragedy would be front-page news. Someone might even call Anderson Cooper.
But the fact is that mountains are being blown up, streams are being buried, and entire regions are being poisoned on purpose every day. In a way, that makes mountaintop removal mining worse than the Gulf oil spill–at least BP doesn’t dump crude oil in the Gulf intentionally.
The EPA’s veto came on the heels of a year-long campaign by Rainforest Action Network and smaller anti-MTR groups. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson received thousands of emails and hundreds of phone calls urging her to reject the Spruce mine. And in September 2010, activists dumped half a ton of Appalachian dirt on the steps of the EPA headquarters in order to highlight their message: “Don’t let King Coal dump on Appalachia.”
Of course, the decision wasn’t completely due to activist efforts. A number of EPA reports and independent studies agreed that the mining project would cause inexcusable environmental damage. But reports like that can easily be (and often are) swept under the rug, if no one draws public attention to them. At the very least, it seems that direct-action crusaders (and, ahem, green bloggers) aren’t wasting their time.
Keep an eye out for more stories like this in the coming months. The movement to protect Appalachia is, if you will excuse the coal-related metaphor, just picking up steam.