Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would encompass 2,278 acres. It would bury not only the Pigeonroost and Oldhouse streams, the EPA said, but all the creatures that live in them.
It would also likely affect downstream waters and wildlife, contributing to conditions that would support blooms of oxygen-sucking, toxic golden algae that kill fish and other aquatic life.
Although Arch had planned to mitigate the impacts by building new streams, EPA said the coal company would most likely be unable to reproduce the natural streams’ physical, chemical and biological functions.
Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said the company will defend its permit ‘‘vigorously.’’ She warned that if EPA follows through on the veto, the state’s economy and tax base will suffer.
Arch planned to invest $250 million, create 250 well-paying jobs and generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenues ‘‘in a region that desperately needs both,’’ she said.
Link said the ruling effectively puts every U.S. business on notice that a legally issued Clean Water Act permit ‘‘can be revoked at any time according to the whims of the federal government.’’
‘‘Clearly, such a development would have a chilling impact on future investment and job creation,’’ she said.
Region 3 Administrator Shawn Garvin reached the decision on the Spruce No. 1 permit last month but only made it public Friday afternoon. EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan said it released the document to ensure the review process is ‘‘as constructive and productive as possible.’’
‘‘It is important to emphasize that this is only one step in the process,’’ Gilfillan said in an e-mail. ‘‘EPA has not reached a final decision on this project.’’
The EPA’s Office of Water gets the final say and will rule after considering the science and some 50,000 public comments on the mine.
The regional ruling likens headwaters to the human circulatory system, saying they provide ‘‘fundamental building blocks to the remainder of the aquatic and human environment.’’
The Sierra Club praised EPA for ‘‘staring down Big Coal ... and doing what’s right for Appalachians.’’
Executive Director Michael Brune called Spruce ‘‘the mother of all mountaintop removal mines’’ and said the veto recommendation ‘‘shows that the Obama administration is adhering to science and the rule of law and is listening to the people of Appalachia.’’
But U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall called EPA’s action ‘‘a disturbing precedent’’ that will undermine investor confidence and intensify the fears of miners worried about their futures.
‘‘Without finality in the permitting process, permits are worthless,’’ said Rahall, D-W.Va. ‘‘I hope that the EPA will rethink this ill-considered veto recommendation before it finalizes this decision.’’
Mountaintop removal is a form of strip mining that blasts mountains apart at the top to expose multiple seams of coal. Excess rock and rubble are dumped into nearby valleys. It is both highly efficient and highly destructive.
EPA said it will reach out to Arch, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and West Virginia officials to discuss potential ways to minimize the project’s impacts.
‘‘It’s what we expected,’’ Gov. Joe Manchin told The Associated Press. ‘‘It’s very disappointing.
‘‘This is a permit that has gone through more review than any permit in the nation,’’ he said. ‘‘If that’s the case, how could all of these agencies be wrong all these years.’’
Manchin sued the EPA earlier this month, seeking to overturn Obama administration policies aimed at curbing large-scale surface mining in Appalachia. He said Friday he expects governors from Kentucky and Virginia to join him in the litigation.
The mine was permitted three years ago but has been repeatedly delayed by lawsuits. Environmentalists challenged the corps’ authority to issue Clean Water Act permits for large mountaintop removal mines.
The corps issued such a permit for the Spruce mine in 2007 after a lengthy process that included an EPA review. Earlier this year, under the administration of President Barack Obama, EPA said it would exercise its legal authority to give that permit more scrutiny.
In March, EPA said it would veto the permit, and the following month, Arch sued. The St. Louis-based coal company argues the agency lacks the authority to revoke the permit after it’s been issued.