A year-long deadlock with the Mingo-Logan Coal Company in West Virginia has been broken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which says it will invoke a rarely-used authority to stop the company from disposing of mining waste in streams near it's Spruce No. 1 coal mine.

“The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and the clean water on which they depend,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter S. Silva, who added; "The EPA is acting under the law and using the best science to protect water quality, wildlife and Appalachian communities, who rely on clean waters for drinking, fishing and swimming."

According to an agency press release, use of the Clean Water Act authority will prevent the mine from dumping waste into streams unless the company identifies an alternative mining design that would avoid irreversible damage to water quality and meets the requirements of the law. That authority,used only for cases deemed "unaccaptable," has been invoked just dozen times since 1972. The move against Mingo-Logan comes after extensive scientific study, a public hearing in West Virginia and reviews of more than 50,000 public comments.

Protracted negotiations with the company failed to produce an agreement that would resulted in a decreased environmental impact -- which the agency blamed on Mingo Logan for not offering offering any new proposed mining configurations.

Agency cites irreversible damage to clean water in the region

The EPA said the proposed mine project would have:
  • Disposed of 110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste into streams.
  • Buried more than six miles of high-quality streams in Logan County, West Virginia with millions of tons of mining waste from the dynamiting of more than 2,200 acres of mountains and forestlands.
  • Buried more than 35,000 feet of high-quality streams under mining waste, eliminating all fish, small invertebrates, salamanders, and other wildlife that live in them.
  • Polluted downstream waters as a result of burying these streams, leading to unhealthy levels of salinity and toxic levels of selenium that turn fresh water into salty water. The resulting waste would then fill valleys and streams, significantly compromising water quality and possibly causing permanent damage to ecosystems and streams.
  • Caused downstream watershed degradation that would kill wildlife, impact birdlife, reduce habitat value, and increase susceptibility to toxic algal blooms.
  • Inadequately mitigated for the mine’s environmental impacts by not replacing streams being buried, and attempting to use stormwater ditches as compensation for natural stream losses.
Additionally, during the permitting process there was a failure to consider cumulative watershed degradation resulting from past, present, and future mining in the area.