Skip to main content

Appalachian and National Groups File Amicus Brief In Support of EPA Veto of Mountaintop Removal Mining Operation

Oppose lawsuit brought by coal company that seeks to overturn EPA’s historic decision to protect West Virginia streams
August 15, 2011
Washington, D.C. —

Several Appalachian organizations filed an amicus curiae brief in a federal case in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) decision to veto a permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine, one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed in Appalachia. The EPA veto enforces the law and protects more than 6.6 miles of West Virginia streams from permanent destruction.

Represented by Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, the Sierra Club and three other local conservation and social justice groups—West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition—filed their brief as amici curiae or “friends of the court,” in support of EPA against the lawsuit brought by the Mingo Logan Coal Company. Their filing explains that EPA’s veto fully satisfies the Clean Water Act and was a proper exercise of EPA’s ultimate authority to oversee the Corps’ permitting process and prevent unacceptable damage to U.S. waters, wildlife and communities that depend on those waters.  The conservationists’ brief also aims to counterbalance the amicus briefs from more than a dozen industry groups that have attacked EPA’s decision to protect West Virginia streams from devastation by the Spruce No. 1 Mine.

“We began working to protect these precious mountain streams more than 15 years ago so we applaud EPA’s veto because it brings essential Clean Water Act protections to a vital corner of West Virginia,” said Cindy Rank, chair of the Mining Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We’ll keep working to keep our local waters and mountains safe from destruction by mountaintop removal mining waste so West Virginians can enjoy them for generations to come.”

Mountaintop removal is a destructive form of coal mining, using explosives to blow up mountains and expose the coal under them. Coal companies then dump rubble and waste over the side of the mountain into valleys below, burying streams underneath waste dumps known as “valley fills,” and polluting the ecosystem and watershed downstream. More than 2,000 miles of streams have been buried by mountaintop removal coal mining to date and vast areas of West Virginia and Appalachia are no longer able to sustain wildlife or local communities.

On Jan. 13, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced its decision to veto the water pollution permit for one of the largest ever proposed mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia, Mingo Logan’s Spruce No. 1 mine. EPA finalized this veto based on strong scientific record after a process in which it reviewed over 50,000 written comments from the public. The action prohibits Mingo Logan from dumping its waste into high-quality streams and tributaries—Oldhouse Branch and Pigeonroost Branch in the Spruce Fork watershed and Coal River sub-basin—to protect those streams and the watersheds below. Mingo Logan filed suit against the EPA in Washington, D.C. during EPA’s veto process, and then changed its complaint in February 2011 to challenge EPA’s final veto.

“EPA did the right thing for our state when it vetoed one of the largest mountaintop removal mining projects ever,” said Debbie Jarrell of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Once those waters were gone, we would have lost them forever.”

“This veto honors the EPA’s legal responsibility to enforce the Clean Water Act, and we should all be proud of EPA for doing its job for the people of Appalachia, because we just can’t afford to lose more of our clean water and communities to feed the mining industry’s desire for more short-term profit,” said Dianne Bady of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

“EPA has taken important action to protect high-quality streams and the communities that depend on them in West Virginia by issuing a decision that follows the science and fundamental requirements of the Clean Water Act,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse.

“Our pristine mountain streams are not garbage dumps or landfills,” said Jim Sconyers, chair of the West Virginia Sierra Club Chapter. “If these coal companies can’t mine coal legally using their usual destructive methods, then it’s high time for them to stop—or change their ways.”

Additional Resources:
EPA’s Spruce No. 1 Veto: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/cwa/dredgdis/spruce.cfm
EPA’s 404(c) Veto Authority: http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/guidance/cwa/dredgdis/404c_index.cfm

Contacts

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 221

Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, (512) 477-2152

Jim Sconyers, Sierra Club - West Virginia Chapter, (304) 698-9628

Cindy Rank, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, (304) 924-5802

Debbie Jarrell, Coal River Mountain Watch, (304) 854-2182

Dianne Bady, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, (304) 360-2072

Dan Radmacher, Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, (540) 798-6683

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.