Ison Rock Ridge, Spruce No. 1 Mining Permits On the Line

By Jamie Goodman

Coalfields residents and conservation groups continue their ongoing tug-of-war with the coal industry over new mountaintop removal mining permits.

In a massive blow for the environment, the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy (DMME) announced approval of a vast 1,230 acre permit for A&G Coal’s Ison Rock Ridge Mine in Wise County, Va, despite sustained EPA objections to the permit.

The operation would affect several communities in Wise County, potentially devastating the tourism industry in nearby Derby and mining within the town limits of Appalachia. The community of Inman, which sits directly below the area DMME has deemed mineable, was devastated in 2004 when a boulder at another A&G mine site crashed into a private home, killing three-year-old Jeremy Davidson in his bed.

“They’re not looking out for the safety of the people and environment, and they’re going to blast this mountain despite the federal rules,” said Sam Broach, president of the Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, a Wise County community organization that has been fighting the permit for three years. “They only care about the bottom dollar, and we care about the future of our community.”

The mine would fill three miles of streams

within the Powell River watershed with over 11 million cubic yards of mining waste. Area streams already show significant impacts by surface mining; the DMME itself has recorded conductivity readings at nearby creeks that are nearly 60 percent higher than new rules outlined by the Obama Administration.

In 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the Army Corps of Engineers revoke the mining permit issued for Ison Rock Ridge, and insisted that A&G Coal reapply for a new permit that included stronger environmental protections.

Following the recent announcement, DMME spokesman Mike Abbott, said “all that’s needed now for mining to begin is for A&G Coal to submit its bond and fees to DMME.” The federal EPA, however, reacted with a letter to DMME noting that “the NPDES permit cannot be issued until EPA withdraws its objections.”

In another twist, less than a quarter of the proposed site can legally be mined until A&G obtains a required federal 404 permit from the Army Corps of Engineers for valley fills.

Spruce No. 1 Mine

The fight for the largest mountaintop removal mining permit to date—the Spruce No. 1 surface mine in Logan County, W.Va.— continued in a public hearing on May 18 in Charleston, W.Va.

EPA officials accepted comments from the public at what was a subdued and small gathering compared to the large, heated Army Corps of Engineer hearings held last fall.

The EPA announced in March that it planned to significantly restrict or prohibit mountaintop removal mining at Spruce No. 1. If permitted, Arch Coal’s operation would bury more than seven miles of headwater streams and impact 2,278 acres of forestland.

In a statement showing support for the EPA’s actions on mountaintop removal, Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia said: “EPA Administrator Jackson reiterated to me that more wide-ranging guidance is forthcoming in the near future, providing clarity relating to water quality issues and mining permits. I encouraged her to move forward as soon as possible so those seeking approval of permits can fully understand the parameters for acceptable activity under the Clean Water Act.”

The EPA comment period on Spruce No. 1 was scheduled to end on June 4. Visit for updates.

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