Amid probes of last month’s deep coal mining accident in West Virginia, hundreds of coal miners demonstrated in the state capital of Charleston against an attempt by federal officials to block a new strip-mining project in the state.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing about its proposed veto of a mining permit for the Spruce No. 1 mine project of St. Louis-based Arch Coal, which would use the controversial mountaintop removal technique.
The EPA says the technique, which involves blasting off the tops of mountains and shoving the rubble into valleys, causes environmental harm, including health hazards for local residents.
With the use of coal in electricity generation also coming under fire for its carbon dioxide emissions, coal miners in the state see increased threats to their livelihood from the government intervention.
Supporters of the new strip mine said that the EPA’s attempt to block a project that had already received a mining permit after three years of studies and testing would dampen investment in future projects, according to local newspaper reports.
But the Obama administration has pledged to heed scientists who see mountaintop removal as causing irreversible damage to the environment. While stopping short of the total ban on mountaintop removal urged by environmental groups, the EPA under administrator Lisa Jackson has said it will limit surface mining in six states of the region by sharply curtailing the filling of valleys with mountaintop waste.
In announcing its proposed veto of the Spruce Mine, the EPA cited adverse impacts such as burial of streams, downstream pollution, destruction of forests and studies showing an increase in premature death among those living close to mining operations.
The project, the largest surface mine ever to receive a permit at the time, covers some 2,300 acres and would bury 7 miles of streams. It would produce an average 2.7 million tons of coal a year over 15 years and employ about 250 miners.
The hearing also took on a political cast, according the reports, as the local Democratic congressman, Nick Rahall, as well as his Republican challenger in the November elections, backed the industry objections to the proposed EPA action. Environmental groups, including the national Sierra Club, praised the agency’s proposed veto.
By. Darrell Delamaide