Yesterday, the EPA revoked Arch Coal’s permit for a mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia. The decision strikes at the heart of the West Virginian coal mining industry which, having nearly mined out the state, is desperate to compete with Wyoming’s relatively cheap and abundant coal reserves.
Mountaintop removal is, believe it or not, exactly what it sounds like. The mining company blasts off the top of the mountain to get to the coal underneath it. If you’re wondering where that mountain of dirt and rock winds up, it’s dumped in nearby streams, literally burying them alive under millions of cubic feet of debris.
Arch Coal’s “Spruce” mine would have been the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia, a state whose topography was rewritten by years of Bush-era regulatory permissiveness. In its ruling, the EPA stated that the Spruce Mine, which would bury seven miles of streams, would irreparably damage the environment and threaten the health of nearby communities. Duh!
Arch Coal’s shares fell 2.3% upon news of the permit revocation. Gee, that’s a shame. Arch Coal said, without any discernible trace of irony, that it was “shocked and dismayed” by EPA’s action. Looking at aerial photos of mountaintop removal mines, I’m pretty shocked and dismayed myself.
The ruling comes at a time when the EPA is under fire from Republicans and coal-state Democrats eager to rein in EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It’s an encouraging sign that the EPA is not going to back down in the face of threats. The coal industry may be able to bully or buy half of Congress, but the EPA will holds its ground.