One of the largest and most controversial coal mines in American history appears to be moving forward, at least for now. Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency vetoed the massive Spruce No. 1 mine’s permit, because it would cause irreparable damage to the surrounding ecosystem. But last week a federal judge overturned that ruling, arguing that government had overstepped its bounds, effectively green-lighting the mine. We wish this were an April Fools joke, but it appears to be true.

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Mountaintop Removal, strip mining, coal mine, West Virginia, Arch Coal of St. Louis, Spruce No. 1 Mine

The Spruce mine, which will cover 2,278 acres of land in Logan County, has been about 13 years in the making; the permit process began in the late 1990s, and it was approved by the Bush administration in 2007. Then, in 2011, arguing that the mine would jeopardize the health of Appalachian communities and clean water on which they depend, the EPA moved to veto the mine’s permit. Now, after a federal judge in Washington, DC ruled in favor of the mine it appears to be back on track, but the government still has a chance to appeal the ruling.

A recent editorial in the New York Times observes that the EPA has the Clean Water Act on its side: “Section 404 of the law gives the agency broad authority to protect water quality, including the ‘withdrawal’ of permits ‘whenever’ it determines that they will have an ‘unacceptable adverse effect’ on the environment,” noted the Times editorial board.

Mountaintop removal is one of the most efficient and environmentally destructive mining techniques in existence. It involves blasting entire mountaintops to reveal the coal stored inside, polluting downstream water and destroying entire ecosystems. In its 2010 environmental impact report, the EPA found if the Spruce Mine were to move forward it would cause “unacceptable damage to the local ecology” because of the disposal of 110 million cubic yards of coal mine waste it would create, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Photos by and Roston