The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has taken final action that reaffirms the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s legal power to veto a mining permit that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had issued. The court denied a request by Mingo Logan Coal Company for the full court to rehear a three-judge panel’s original decision recognizing the EPA’s authority to veto the Spruce Mine permit. In April, an original appellate panel of Judges Henderson, Griffith and Kavanaugh had upheld this authority, and today’s action means that decision stands as the final judgment of the D.C. Circuit. This decision should end the coal industry’s attempt to cut off the EPA’s authority to protect communities from the harm caused by mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia under an important safeguard provision in the Clean Water Act known as the “veto” provision.
Earthjustice, with Appalachian Mountain Advocates, represents West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council as amici curiae (or “friends of the court”) in support of the EPA’s veto in this case.
Emma Cheuse, Earthjustice attorney: “Tonight, communities in Appalachia and across the country can rest more easily, knowing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has full ability to protect our waterways from harm caused by devastating practices like mountaintop removal mining.”
Vernon Haltom, Coal River Mountain Watch executive director: “Coal River Mountain Watch is pleased that the court has upheld the EPA’s authority to protect our people and mountains. We need the EPA to do its job, because the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has refused to do its job and has proven time and again that its real interest is promoting the devastation that mountaintop removal brings to our health and communities.”
Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Beyond Coal Campaign at Sierra Club: “The court’s decision to uphold the EPA’s right to veto the Spruce Mine permit is another victory along the path to end the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining. The Spruce Mine was one of the largest mountaintop removal permits ever proposed in West Virginia history, and its valley fills would have buried more than six miles of streams. Yesterday’s ruling affirms the EPA’s authority to ensure the safety of our waterways and the health of our communities, including vetoing harmful permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.”
Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition: “OVEC welcomes the court’s decision that the EPA has veto power under the Clean Water Act, which was written to protect water and human health. We need the EPA to be able to carry out its duties, especially when highly politicized, so-called regulatory agencies in states like West Virginia hand out permits to polluters with total disregard to science and human health.”
Cindy Rank, mining board chair for West Virginia Highlands Conservancy: “While many of our politicians today decry the role of the EPA in our lives and seek to strip the agency of its authority, we are grateful for the Clean Water Act, the wisdom of an earlier Congress that enacted the law, and the EPA’s veto of the destructive Spruce permit. In refusing to rehear this case, the court has again affirmed the EPA’s right to enforce the CWA and protect our water and the health and well-being of communities dependent on those resources. The decision offers a glimmer of hope that the destructive excesses of the coal industry might still be curtailed.”