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Judge Suspends Five Mine Permits

A federal judge in West Virginia has ruled that the practice of dumping the rubble into streams from blown up mountaintops violates the Clean Water Act.

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Victory

Go for the Coal

For quite a few years coal companies have been blowing the tops off mountains in Appalachia to get at the coal seams beneath. They dispose of the "overburden" by simply pushing it into creeks at the feet of the mountains. The Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for this activity, argues that this technique can continue without damaging streams. As many as 1,200 miles of waterways have already been buried throughout the region.

Let the Chips Fall

Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment filed suit in September 2005 to challenge permits for five of these mines in West Virginia. Clients were the Ohio Velley Environmentan Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Coal River Mountain Watch. They insist that the Corps' argument is unsupported by any reliable evidence.

The End May Be Near

On March 23, 2007, federal judge Robert S. Chambers ruled against the Corps and for the plaintiffs, observing that, while the Corps believes it can recreate the destroyed streams, but "the Corps offers little experience or scientific support for this belief." Judge Chambers declared the five permits illegal and ordered the Corps to go back and comply with the law. The ruling could have widespread impact on mountaintop removal mining.

Office:  Washington, DC
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