Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

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.

Photo courtesy of Southwings

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."

Visit EcoWatch’s WATER and COAL page for more related news on this topic.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Dominion Resources' coal-fired power plant located in central Virginia beside the James River. Edbrown05 / CC BY-SA 2.5

Corporations that flouted environmental regulations and spewed pollutants into the air and dumped them into waterways will not be required to pay the fines they agreed to during the pandemic, according to The Guardian.

Read More Show Less
The Ministry of Trade issued a regulation revoking its decision from February to no longer require Indonesian timber companies to obtain export licenses that certify the wood comes from legal sources. BAY ISMOYO / AFP / Getty Images

By Hans Nicholas Jong

The Indonesian government has backed down from a decision to scrap its timber legality verification process for wood export, amid criticism from activists and the prospect of being shut out of the lucrative European market.

Read More Show Less

Viruses, pollution and warming ocean temperatures have plagued corals in recent years. The onslaught of abuse has caused mass bleaching events and threatened the long-term survival of many ocean species. While corals have little chance of surviving through a mass bleaching, a new study found that when corals turn a vibrant neon color, it's in a last-ditch effort to survive, as CBS News reported.

Read More Show Less
Harmful algal blooms, seen here at Ferril Lake in Denver, Colorado on June 30, 2016, are increasing in lakes and rivers across the U.S. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

During summer in central New York, residents often enjoy a refreshing dip in the region's peaceful lakes.

But sometimes swimming is off-limits because of algae blooms that can make people sick.

Read More Show Less
A group of doctors prepared to treat coronavirus patients in Brazil. SILVIO AVILA / AFP via Getty Images

More than 40 million doctors and nurses are in, and they are prescribing a green recovery from the economic devastation caused by the new coronavirus.

Read More Show Less
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (R) and Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte shake hands during an event to launch the United Nations' Climate Change conference, COP26, in central London on February 4, 2020. CHRIS J RATCLIFFE / POOL / AFP / Getty Images

The U.K. government has proposed delaying the annual international climate negotiations for a full year after its original date to November 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Read More Show Less

Trending

The Upcycled Food Association announced on May 19 that they define upcycled foods as ones that "use ingredients that otherwise would not have gone to human consumption, are procured and produced using verifiable supply chains, and have a positive impact on the environment." Minerva Studio / Getty Images

By Jared Kaufman

Upcycled food is now an officially defined term, which advocates say will encourage broader consumer and industry support for products that help reduce food waste. Upcycling—transforming ingredients that would have been wasted into edible food products—has been gaining ground in alternative food movements for several years but had never been officially defined.

Read More Show Less