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Supreme Court Rejects Coal Industry Lawsuit, Defends EPA Veto of Mountaintop Removal Mine
Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied the coal mining industry’s request to hear a case against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for vetoing part of a permit for one of the largest and most harmful mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia’s history, the Spruce No. 1 mine. By declining to take the case the Supreme Court refused to reverse the lower court’s ruling that the EPA has full authority to protect clean water whenever necessary to prevent unacceptable environmental harm.
In October 1999, the Spruce No. 1 Mine became the subject of the first significant federal court decision on mountaintop removal mining, won by individual community members and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (represented by Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice). That case initiated years of controversy and litigation over this proposed mine. In the meantime, the science accumulated showing how devastating this type of mining is for local waters and communities.
In Jan. 2011, the EPA decided to veto the Spruce No. 1 Mine permit based on robust science showing the irreparable harm that would occur if the mining company were allowed to permanently bury and pollute natural headwater streams with mining waste. The permit would have allowed the Mingo Logan coal company to bury and destroy more than six miles of pristine mountain streams under mining waste dumps created from the destruction of more than 2,000 acres of land, releasing harmful pollutants into downstream waters that sustain local communities and wildlife. Appalachian citizen groups have been fighting to save the streams that would be destroyed by the Spruce Mine for more than a decade—as one of the largest, most harmful mountaintop removal mines ever proposed.
“The Spruce No. 1 mine is one of the largest and most destructive mountaintop removal mines ever proposed in Appalachia," said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice. "EPA’s decision to veto the dumping of waste from this mine was a decision to prevent the most extreme impacts of the most radical type of strip mining—the worst of the worst. The Clean Water Act, enacted with wide bipartisan and public support, gave EPA broad authority to step in and stop this type of wholesale destruction and pollution of U.S. waters. The Supreme Court refusal to hear industry’s baseless case confirms that the EPA has the clear legal authority to prevent the dumping of waste whenever it would cause unacceptable harm to communities and the environment.”
In this instance, the EPA decided to veto the Spruce No. 1 mine permit after substantial new science had come to light. The EPA considered more than 50,000 written comments before issuing the veto. The vast majority—70 percent—supported the EPA’s veto.
“The coal industry has falsely painted the Spruce mine veto as an example of EPA overreach and a ‘war on coal,’ when in fact EPA’s authority to veto this permit is obvious from the face of the statute and EPA’s decision is based on clear scientific evidence of serious environmental harm from mining,” said Jim Hecker, environmental enforcement director at Public Justice and co-counsel in the 1998 case that initially blocked the Spruce mine
In 2012, the D.C. district court ruled that the EPA lacked authority to veto the permit after the Corps had issued it, without addressing the scientific merits of the EPA’s decision. In 2013, the D.C. Circuit (in an opinion by Judges Henderson, Griffith and Kavanaugh) unanimously reversed the district court’s ruling and upheld the EPA’s authority to veto whenever there is unacceptable harm, including after a permit has been issued. The full D.C. Circuit then denied the coal company’s petition for en banc review.
“This is a very gratifying outcome for water drinkers everywhere," said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. “The Court agrees that Congress gave EPA the authority to protect our waters from devastating harm, harm the proposed massive Spruce mountaintop removal mine would wreak if its permit was not vetoed. By protecting clean water, EPA is ultimately protecting human health, and as recent events have underscored, here in central West Virginia we cannot depend on the coal industry, nor state government to protect human health by protecting clean water. We need EPA to be able to keep a check on things.”
Today’s denial of certiorari reaffirms what the D.C. Circuit decided—that the EPA has authority to veto a harmful permit after it is issued. The case now goes back to the district court to review the scientific merits of the EPA’s veto decision in this specific instance.
"It's absurd that we have to fight this hard to protect one site from mountaintop removal when there are so many threatening the health of mountain communities,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. "We have to rely on the EPA to do the job clearly entrusted to them, because the West Virginia Dept. of Environmental Protection long ago abdicated their mission. To struggle so long for one site is all the more reason that we need to pass the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, HR 526."
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Global Banks, Led by JPMorgan Chase, Invested $1.9 Trillion in Fossil Fuels Since Paris Climate Pact
By Sharon Kelly
A report published Wednesday names the banks that have played the biggest recent role in funding fossil fuel projects, finding that since 2016, immediately following the Paris agreement's adoption, 33 global banks have poured $1.9 trillion into financing climate-changing projects worldwide.
By Patti Lynn
2018 was a groundbreaking year in the public conversation about climate change. Last February, The New York Times reported that a record percentage of Americans now believe that climate change is caused by humans, and there was a 20 percentage point rise in "the number of Americans who say they worry 'a great deal' about climate change."
England faces an "existential threat" if it does not change how it manages its water, the head of the country's Environment Agency warned Tuesday.
By Jessica Corbett
A new analysis revealed Tuesday that over the past two decades heat records across the U.S. have been broken twice as often as cold ones—underscoring experts' warnings about the increasingly dangerous consequences of failing to dramatically curb planet-warming emissions.
By Madison Dapcevich
Ask any resident of San Francisco about the waterfront parrots, and they will surely tell you a story of red-faced conures squawking or dive-bombing between building peaks. Ask a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, however, and they will tell you of a mysterious string of neurological poisonings impacting the naturalized flock for decades.
The initial cause of the fire was not yet known, but it has been driven by the strong wind and jumped the North Santiam River, The Salem Statesman Journal reported. As of Tuesday night, it threatened around 35 homes and 30 buildings, and was 20 percent contained.
The unanimous verdict was announced Tuesday in San Francisco in the first federal case to be brought against Monsanto, now owned by Bayer, alleging that repeated use of the company's glyphosate-containing weedkiller caused the plaintiff's cancer. Seventy-year-old Edwin Hardeman of Santa Rosa, California said he used Roundup for almost 30 years on his properties before developing non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"Today's verdict reinforces what another jury found last year, and what scientists with the state of California and the World Health Organization have concluded: Glyphosate causes cancer in people," Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said in a statement. "As similar lawsuits mount, the evidence will grow that Roundup is not safe, and that the company has tried to cover it up."
Judge Vince Chhabria has split Hardeman's trial into two phases. The first, decided Tuesday, focused exclusively on whether or not Roundup use caused the plaintiff's cancer. The second, to begin Wednesday, will assess if Bayer is liable for damages.
"We are disappointed with the jury's initial decision, but we continue to believe firmly that the science confirms glyphosate-based herbicides do not cause cancer," Bayer spokesman Dan Childs said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "We are confident the evidence in phase two will show that Monsanto's conduct has been appropriate and the company should not be liable for Mr. Hardeman's cancer."
Some legal experts said that Chhabria's decision to split the trial was beneficial to Bayer, Reuters reported. The company had complained that the jury in Johnson's case had been distracted by the lawyers' claims that Monsanto had sought to mislead scientists and the public about Roundup's safety.
However, a remark made by Chhabria during the trial and reported by The Guardian was blatantly critical of the company.
"Although the evidence that Roundup causes cancer is quite equivocal, there is strong evidence from which a jury could conclude that Monsanto does not particularly care whether its product is in fact giving people cancer, focusing instead on manipulating public opinion and undermining anyone who raises genuine and legitimate concerns about the issue," he said.
Many regulatory bodies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, have ruled that glyphosate is safe for humans, but the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer found it was "probably carcinogenic to humans" in 2015. A university study earlier this year found that glyphosate use increased cancer risk by as much as 41 percent.
Hardeman's lawyers Jennifer Moore and Aimee Wagstaff said they would now reveal Monsanto's efforts to mislead the public about the safety of its product.
"Now we can focus on the evidence that Monsanto has not taken a responsible, objective approach to the safety of Roundup," they wrote in a statement reported by The Guardian.
Hardeman's case is considered a "bellwether" trial for the more than 760 glyphosate cases Chhabria is hearing. In total, there are around 11,200 such lawsuits pending in the U.S., according to Reuters.
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias told Reuters that Tuesday's decision showed that the verdict in Johnson's case was not "an aberration," and could possibly predict how future juries in the thousands of pending cases would respond.