EPA to Appeal Spruce No. 1 Court Decision

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in May that it would appeal a court decision that overturned the agency’s veto of the Spruce Mine No. 1 mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia.

The mine in question — Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine No. 1 — would span 2,278 acres and be the largest mountaintop removal mine in state history. When the EPA vetoed an essential water pollution permit in Jan. 2011, citing the fact that the mine would bury seven miles of streams, it was was the 13th time since 1972 that the agency vetoed a permit already issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The judge who overturned the EPA veto said the agency had overstepped its role by vetoing a permit that was approved by the Army Corps.

EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Inventory

By Brian Sewell

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has released a national inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for 2010. The Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks concludes that total emissions of the six main greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide and methane, rose 3.2 percent from the previous year. Reaching the equivalent to 6,822 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the inventory reports a more than 10 percent increase in total emissions since 1990, when the agency began collecting greenhouse gas emissions data to be presented in a comprehensive report.

The EPA says that charting the emissions and “sinks” — the amount of carbon taken up by forests, vegetation and soils — is an essential first step in identifying and addressing the threats associated with climate change.

The entire inventory is available at epa.gov/climatechange.

In Brief

Citizens Divided

Coal industry lawyers seek to restrict the amount of input — including evidence from academic and scientific experts — allowed by citizen groups in cases regarding mountaintop removal coal mining permits. The argument made to U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers, by attorneys representing Alpha Natural Resources, came as the court considers at least two challenges levied by citizen groups against previously approved surface mine permits. In addition to citizen groups, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also raised concerns over recent permit impacts on water quality, including the 635-acre Reylas Surface Mine in West Virginia, which would bury 2.5 miles of streams.

Listening to the Public

During May of this year, the EPA held three public hearings to gather information from the public and stakeholders regarding 36 drafted National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits for Kentucky coal mining operations. The hearings were a response to the EPA’s specific objections of the permits out of concern that they do not adequately protect water quality, the environment and human health consistent with the Clean Water Act.

FirstEnergy Water Lawsuit

The Akron, Ohio-based FirstEnergy Corp. has settled with environmental groups in a lawsuit against the electric utility for alleged arsenic pollution from a coal ash pond at its Preston County, W.Va., Albright power plant. The environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, claimed that FirstEnergy was liable for fines of up to $9.4 million for federal violations under the Clean Water Act. The case was settled for $50,000 and the Albright plant is scheduled to shut down in September. FirstEnergy denies any wrongdoing.

Duke CEO Questioned

At Duke Energy’s annual shareholders meeting in North Carolina, some attendees questioned CEO Jim Rogers about the company’s use of mountaintop removal coal and storage of coal ash. When a mother, who was diagnosed with cancer and lives near Duke Energy’s Riverbend plant, and her child expressed their concerns over coal ash, he responded, “I believe that lake is safe, I believe the air is safe and I believe you’ll be fine.” Later on, Rogers agreed to have a “long conversation” with environmentalists.

Virginia Loves Coal

The Governor of Virginia signed into law two bills in a strong show of support for the coal industry. The first bill promotes tax credits for coal jobs in the state, while the second bill was designed to increase mining safety through increased mapping in areas where coal and natural gas operations are working in close proximity. The bills signed by Gov. McDonnell will take effect July 1 of this year.

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