By St. Louis Business Journal

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday vetoed a water pollution permit issued by the Army Corps of Engineers for one of Arch Coalâ¿¿s proposed mines in West Virginia.

This is the first time in 38 years the EPA has vetoed such a project, prompting praise from environmentalists.

The action shows the Obama administrationâ¿¿s stance on mountaintop removal mines. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said she stopped a mountaintop mine that would have destroyed more than seven miles of vital streams and more than 2,000 mountain acres in an important part of Appalachia.

⿿The proposed Spruce No. 1 Mine would use destructive and unsustainable mining practices that jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend,⿝ EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Peter Silva said in a statement.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal said the EPAâ¿¿s decision blocks an additional $250 million investment and 250 well-paying jobs.

⿿We remain shocked and dismayed at EPA⿿s continued onslaught with respect to this validly issued permit,⿝ Arch Coal said in a statement. ⿿Arch will continue to vigorously defend the permit, now in court, along with the right to have a predictable regulatory environment.

⿿We believe this decision will have a chilling effect on future U.S. investment because every business possessing or requiring a permit under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act will fear similar overreaching by the EPA. It⿿s a risk many businesses cannot afford to take.⿝

The EPAâ¿¿s decision Thursday is the culmination of a fight to stop a mine that started in 1998 when a resident of Pigeonroost Hollow, one of the hollows that would be destroyed by the mine, sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to revoke Arch Coal's Clean Water Act permit, the EPA said. That lawsuit, the first ever brought by citizens to stop a mountaintop removal mine, sparked years of litigation against the corps to stop the Spruce Mine. Federal regulators said the corps persists in trying to permit these mines which destroy the very streams that the corps is supposed to protect.

⿿It is a relief after all of these years that at least one agency has shown the will to follow the law and the science by stopping the destruction of Pigeonroost Hollow and Oldhouse Branch,⿝ said Joe Lovett, lawyer and executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, who has been fighting this mine for more than 12 years. ⿿Today, the EPA has helped to save these beautiful hollows for future generations.⿝

In March, the EPA released a proposal to veto Archâ¿¿s Spruce No. 1 Mine permit based on scientific and legal analysis showing that the mine would not adhere to Clean Water Act standards. In April, Arch sued the EPA in an attempt to block the veto.

In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyâ¿¿s Regional III Administrator Shawn Garvin recommended that the EPA veto the permit. The EPA said its final decision to veto the permit focused on the science showing the irreparable harm that occurs when mining companies permanently bury and pollute natural headwater streams with mining waste.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI), headed by Chairman and CEO Steven Leer, is the second-largest U.S. coal producer with revenue of $2.6 billion in 2009.

Copyright 2011 American City Business Journals

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