A federal judge ruled in March that the Environmental Protection Agency illegally vetoed a large West Virginia coal-mining project. But the Obama administration countered on May 14 that it would appeal that decision.
The U.S. District Court judge, Amy Berman Jackson, stated that the EPA's unilateral decision, in January, to rescind a waste disposal permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County, W.Va. was a case of the agency overstepping its mark and violating federal law. She then declared the permit valid, green-lighting the project, which will cover - and pollute - 2,278 acres of natural land.
Jackson, however, believed the EPA's withdrawal of the permit was "a stunning power for an agency to arrogate to itself." She claimed the agency had resorted to "magical thinking" to justify the action.
The EPA's choice to revoke the permit, many environmental activists feel, actually seemed quite justified: It noted that mining in this area would cause unacceptable and perhaps irreversible damage to rivers, wildlife, and communities. The mine would bury hundreds of miles of streams beneath tons of waste.
Advocates of the Obama administration's choice to appeal included the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Sierra Club.
Of the judge's decision to validate the Spruce No. 1 mining permit, those groups said in a joint statement, "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 the communities that depend on them.
"As the EPA's Spruce veto determination recognized, sound science shows that it is unacceptable for a coal company to destroy more than 2,000 mountain acres and fill over six miles of vital streams with mining waste pollution.
"No one in [this area] or beyond should be forced to live with the water pollution and wholesale environmental destruction that coal companies are wreaking.
"We're glad to see the EPA's decision to stand up to the coal industry and continue defending the basic right of everyday families to clean water."
Photo: Activists march to protest mountaintop removal coal mining in West Virginia. Brad Davis/AP