Judge: EPA Overstepped Authority in Revoking Coal Mining Permit

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According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson has ruled the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped its authority when it revoked a permit that would have allowed Arch Coal to operate one of the largest mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia. The permit was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the judge determined it stands as is. The EPA revoked the permit because of the project's potential impact on surface water in the region.

Here are some facts about mountaintop-removal coal mining and Arch Coal's proposed project:

* Appalachian Voices reported mountaintop-removal is defined as any method of surface coal mining in which a mountaintop is removed to access coal deposits that lie beneath ground.

* Before mining starts, all plant life and topsoil have to be removed and often surface mining can include removing 600 feet of ground, usually through using explosives, before coal deposits are reached.

* Mountaintop-removal coal mining was first tested in the 1970s in areas of Kentucky and West Virginia, and the process has spread to parts of Tennessee and Virginia, noted National Geographic.

* Arch Coal, based in St. Louis, is the second-largest coal producing company in the nation and contributes to roughly 6 percent of all energy in the U.S.

* In January, the EPA vetoed Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 project in West Virginia, citing the mountaintop-removal mining would damage the environment beyond repair and also cause health problems for communities, according to the Associated Press.

* Arch Coal's $250 million project, which has been delayed since 2007, would cover close to 2,300 acres and bury seven miles of streams while also creating about 250 jobs.

* The Charleston Gazette reported a once-concealed engineering report that Arch Coal prepared for EPA concluded the company could have cut the stream damage caused by the project in half without increasing the costs of coal production by a significant amount.

* The company could have only buried 3.4 miles of streams instead of 8.3 miles while only increasing the cost of production by 1 percent if it pursued an alternative plan designed by an EPA engineer.

Rachel Bogart provides an in-depth look at current environmental issues and local Chicago news stories. As a college student from the Chicago suburbs pursuing two science degrees, she applies her knowledge and passion to both topics to garner further public awareness.

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