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January 14, 2011

Permit Nixed for Huge West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine

Appalachia-Rising-rally

In a huge victory for the Sierra Club and its allies, on January 13 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revoked a water pollution permit for the Spruce No.1 Mine in West Virginia, one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines ever proposed in Appalachia. Above, ralliers at the Appalachia Rising mobilzation in Washington, D.C., last fall.

In its decision, the EPA said Spruce No.1, which would have blown up more than 2,000 acres of mountains, would cause unacceptable damage to West Virginia rivers, wildlife, and communities. EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter S. Silva said the agency was employing a rarely used veto power because the mine would use "destructive and unsustainable" mining practices.

"The EPA is simply doing its job by issuing this veto," says West Virginia Sierra Club organizer Bill Price, below. "The mine would have destroyed almost seven miles of streams, polluted the waters of West Virginia, and had significant human health impacts. I'm grateful to the EPA for taking this major step forward towards the ultimate abolition of mountaintop removal."

Bill-Price

The agency's action also demonstrates that the Obama administration and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson are taking seriously the issue of environmental justice in Appalachia. For more than a century, coal companies have been promising prosperity to residents of southern Appalachia, only to reap their profits and leave the region as impoverished as ever.

The EPA's veto of the Spruce No.1 permit is the culmination of a 12-year battle by citizens and a host of environmental groups. In 1998, a resident of Pigeonroost Hollow, which would have been destroyed by the mine, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke the Arch Coal Company's permit. It was the first-ever citizen lawsuit to stop a mountaintop removal mine.

We-Deserve-Clean-Water

"The people of Appalachia deserve clean water and healthy communities," Price says. "We have an opportunity to transition to a truly prosperous economy by moving away from the use of dirty coal and moving to clean energy sources."

Regina-Hendrix

Price credits West Virgina Sierra Club volunteers Regina Hendrix, above, and Gwen Jones, below center, for their leadership in the fight against Spruce No.1 and mountaintop removal mining throughout southern Appalachia.

Gwen-Jones

"The news about Spruce No.1 couldn't have come at a better time," says Jones. "This victory gives everyone here hope for the future. The mountaintop removal projects in the southern part of the state have a well-established group of Big Coal supporters that have been entrenched in the political machine for decades. That there is now a success that we can point to is enormously important."

"It means everything," says Hendrix, a native West Virginian who has been fighting Spruce No.1 for a dozen years. "As far as I know it's the first time we've ever seen a permit remoked. My hope is that this marks a real turnaround."

Hendrix and Jones are quick to praise two fellow West Virginia volunteers for playing key roles in the victory. "Jim Kotcon, a veteran Sierra Club member and leader, works every day in the political battle to stop mountaintop removal," Jones says, "while Jim Sconyers, our chapter chair, is an articulate and passionate leader who has kept this issue on top of our priority list."

Learn more about the Sierra Club's work to move America beyond coal.

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