By Taylor Kuykendall
West Virginia politicians weren't shy about their disdain for the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to veto a West Virginia surface mine permit after it had been issued, when a federal judge agreed, they took to congratulating the state's coal industry.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington, D.C., ruled in favor of St. Louis-based Arch Coal on Friday. According to the judge's ruling, the water pollution permit for the Logan County mine is valid. The permit was originally issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers but was vetoed by the EPA in January 2011.
The ruling says EPA's view that it had authority to revoke the permit was false.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin thanked Jackson for her decision to overturn the EPA's revocation of the permit, three years after it was issued, in a news release sent out Friday.
"This is a huge victory for West Virginia and our coal miners," Tomblin said. "I want to thank Judge Jackson for recognizing that the EPA and the federal government were completely wrong in revoking this permit. I now call upon Lisa Jackson and the EPA to admit that they have gone too far -- enough is enough. Issue our permits so that we can put our people back to work and provide the resources that will power America."
West Virginia was listed as a friend of the court along Mingo Logan's challenge to the EPA ruling.
U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. said this sends a clear message that the EPA will not be allowed to "run roughshod" over other federal agencies and companies.
" Many future West Virginia jobs were saved today by Judge Jackson's ruling, and we hope that the EPA will think more carefully about their ideologically-driven effort to put the West Virginia coal industry out of business forever," McKinley said. "I am thrilled to see this just ruling come about, especially since the EPA's ill-considered decision to revoke the Spruce No. 1 mine's four-year-old clean water permit was one of the first crises greeting me when I came into office in January of 2011."
Sen. Joe Manchin was also glad to see the court's decision.
"I applaud our courts for stating clearly and unequivocally that a bureaucratic agency like the EPA cannot run the lives of hardworking Americans," Manchin said. "I always knew that the EPA's decision to retroactively veto a coal mining permit for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County was fundamentally wrong and an unprecedented act by the federal government."
Sen. Jay Rockefeller also thought the decision was unfair.
"The issue with the Spruce Mine permit has always been basic fairness," Rockefeller said. "The company received a permit five years ago from the Corps. The EPA participated in that process on the front end but then tried to step in again after the permit was issued and veto it retroactively. ... Our businesses and workers must have greater certainty so that they can do their jobs."
The court decision upset environmentalists who were concerned about the irreparable harm the EPA had concluded the project would cause. The Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by attorneys at Earthjustice and Appalachian Mountain Advocates were granted amicus curiae status in the case and issued a joint statement Friday.
"It is a sad day not only for the people who live near mountains and streams threatened by mountaintop removal coal mining, but for all Americans who understand the need to protect our waterways, and the health of communities that depend on them," the statement reads. "We are deeply disappointed and concerned about the effect of today's court ruling because mountaintop removal mining has already caused widespread and extreme destruction to the mountains, waters, and communities of Appalachia. The Spruce No. 1 Mine permit, in particular, was one of the largest mountaintop removal permits ever proposed in Appalachia, and it is located in an area of West Virginia that has already been devastated by several large mountaintop removal mines."
The groups also point out that the story of the overturned may not be over.
"We urge the EPA to appeal today's ruling and continue to exercise its full authority under the Clean Water Act to protect waterways and communities. The Army Corps should also exercise its authority to recognize the clear science and revoke or suspend the permit," the statement reads. "Severe harm would occur if the company is allowed to dump mining waste. Our groups are committed to fighting for clean water and justice in Appalachia until the people in Appalachia get the protections we so deserve."