Coal Company Refused Changes That Would Have Cost $0.55 a Ton

  • Published on January 18th, 2011

mountaintop removal coalFifty five cents a ton.

That’s how little the changes would have cost Arch Coal company to implement – changes that would have slashed the environmental impact of its mountaintop removal (MTR) Spruce Mine in half. Now that the Environmental Protection Agency has pulled its permit the company is crying foul, but a newly released report shows that the company had a chance to change – and blew it.

The Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette obtained a copy of the report, written up by Morgan Worldwide consultants. Simply titled “Spruce Mine Process Technical Review”, the report laid out feasible ways for the mine to move forward while cutting its environmental impact on the water supply that provides water for local wildlife as well as the water supply for millions of people downstream.

It’s a fascinating window into the process that dragged on for 12 years an nearly resulted in approval for the largest mountaintop removal coal mine in US history. It appears that after all that time the company was prepared to play chicken with the EPA, taking the decision right down to the wire.

They lost.

The EPA ruled last week that the company had failed to meet its obligations under the Clean Water Act, citing “failure to adequately evaluate less environmentally damaging alternatives…. EPA has repeatedly stated its belief that there are alternative mine design and construction practices that would further reduce aquatic resource impacts, while allowing the majority of coal present on site to be mined in a cost effective and technically feasible manner.”

Arch Coal has refused comment, but last week whined “We remain shocked and dismayed at EPA’s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit. Arch will continue to vigorously defend the permit, now in court, along with the right to have a predictable regulatory environment.” As Ken Ward points out at the West Virginia Gazette blog, that’s a nice narrative – it’s just not true.

The EPA was just making good on a warning that had been issued months ago. So why didn’t the company take it seriously? The cost amounts to just 1 percent of operating expenses

More background:

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About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.