The Civic Center’s
South Hall holds about 1000 people, and a little more than half of the seats
were filled for the public hearing. Before the public hearing began, coal
supporters held a separate rally in an adjacent hall, joined by politicians.
In March, the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to veto the Spruce Mine’s
permit, unless the permit was modified to reduce the mine’s environmental
impact. The mine—owned by Arch Coal—would be the largest mountaintop removal
mine in West Virginia. But the
EPA is concerned about the mine's effect on local water quality.
Since then, coal operators and federal regulators haven’t
reached a compromise, and the EPA is moving forward with the veto.
Congressman Nick Rahall was the evening’s first speaker.
“Pursuing this course would have a chilling effect on the
coal industry and the Appalachian region,” Rahall said.
“It will send a message
that investing in coal mining is nothing but a high-risk bet. It is an insult
to the mine permitting process. A veto would harm all efforts to establish
clarity and certainty in the permitting process. And it would undermine the
credibility of the EPA.”
Unlike an Army Corps of Engineers hearing last October, the
audience was well-behaved. During the fall hearing, boos and jeers from coal
supporters drowned out the remarks of many of their opponents. On Tuesday night,
applause and occasionally a muted ‘boo’ followed speakers’ remarks, but for the
most part people were respectful.
Bill Bissett of the Kentucky Coal Association summed up the
arguments of many of the coal supporters:
“We in Kentucky
are watching what goes on here tonight,” he said. “We’re watching what you’re
doing at Spruce Mine Number One and you scare us. You’re killing jobs. You’re
putting people out of work. And you’re doing so without a thought or a care.”
Wilma Zigmond is the superintendent of Logan County Schools.
She told the EPA representatives what the Spruce Mine means to her school
district. She says the property tax on coal and coal-related industries in her
county generates $7.5 million for the schools.
“What cannot be overlooked when you discuss the financial
impact of the levy tax revenue, is the personal dimension to this discussion
for our school system,” she said.
“The emotional devastation that occurs when
coal, and the families who are dependent on coal, no longer have a viable
income. This devastation results in dramatic changes in the child, drastically
affects each child, and ultimately destroys our schools.”
Equally passionate were the remarks from those in favor of
the EPA’s veto.
“And the EPA is here, not about our poverty, not about our
political corruption, not about our jobs, not about the loss of our jobs, and
it’s not about shutting you down,” Sara Cowgill said.
“It’s just about the
reality of the vital importance of clean water. And there is no question
whatsoever that MTR mining process is environmentally devastating and
catastrophic to every community that it touches, extending into the entire
state, the country and the planet.”
Julian Martin of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy quoted
testimony from Margaret Palmer, an
entomologist at the University of Maryland.
“There is no evidence to date that mitigation actions can
compensate for the lost natural resources and ecological functions of the
headwater streams that are destroyed,” he quoted. “Further, the water quality
impacts from the mining and valley fills permeate downstream such that new
streams not directly touched by the mining activities are biologically
Throughout the testimonies, EPA officials sat silently on the stage at the
front of the hall, listening. Their 60 day public comment period is over at the
end of this month, and a final decision on the veto is expected soon after.