Author: Damien M. Schiff
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a veto under the Clean Water Act for a 2007 permit awarded to Arch Coal for the company to operate its Spruce No. 1 coal mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The CWA gives EPA the authority to veto a project (entailing the placement of dredge or fill material into the "waters of the United States") even if the project might otherwise qualify for a permit, if the project's effects are especially environmentally damaging. EPA has used this authority only a dozen times or so in its history, and only once before to revoke a validly issued permit. The coal company and West Virginia officials immediately decried EPA's move, citing the fact that the project would have provided about $250 million in value to the state's economy, and that EPA's veto would have a chilling effect for operators in the industry who can no longer be certain that, just because they have a permit, they'll be able to stay in business.
This of course is not the first time that EPA has recklessly wielded its veto power. PLF attorneys currently represent the Mississippi Board of Levee Commissioners in a challenge to EPA's veto of the Yazoo Backwater Project (Board of Mississippi Levee Commissioners v. USEPA), an important flood control project for the South Mississippi Delta. Just as with the Spruce No. 1 denial, so with the Yazoo Project: EPA is entirely insensitive to the needs of local communities, or to the importance of economic prosperity to the human community and to a healthy environment, or to a commonsense and balanced approach to environmental regulation.