In an extraordinary move, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced today that it plans to suspend permits for four mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia. Many activists familiar with mountaintop removal mining say this is the first time that the Corps has voluntarily planned to suspend permits of this type. This highly unusual announcement by the Corps in a mountaintop removal case means that coal companies must suspend their actions of burying streams at mining sites.
"We are very glad to see that destructive mining practices at these mines will stop at least for now," said Vivian Stockman, a member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in a case challenging the Army Corps of Engineers illegal permitting process. "But it is unfortunate to see that a flawed process that the Corps has used to approve these mines has shown to be so ineffective. By allowing mining at the wrong sites and violating the law, jobs could be lost and economies could be hurt by the blatant disregard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers."
Joining the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition in the lawsuit are Coal River Mountain Watch, and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. These groups are being represented by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Earthjustice.
"For years the Corps of Engineers has failed to follow the law and guarantee that people living in the Appalachian region are protected from rock slides, catastrophic floods, poisoned water supplies and destroyed property," said Janice Nease with Coal River Mountain Watch. "Their decision to suspend these permits will hopefully be a signal that they finally plan to comply with the law and protect us in West Virginia and all over Appalachia. It is a shame that the Corps did not start this process in a legal manner that would have protected the environment while at the same time preserving jobs for many local miners."
This decision comes as hearing dates approach in the environmentalists' lawsuit.
"We are very pleased to hear that the Corps has decided to review these permits, and we're hopeful that the agency will ensure that any future action in connection with these permits will comply with the law," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez.
The environmental groups had filed litigation challenging these permits last year in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia (Case no. 3:05-0784), and there is a hearing on the merits of the case scheduled for June 20 in Huntington, WV.
For additional background information, please contact:
Joe Lovett, Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, (304) 645-9006
Margaret Janes, Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, (304) 897-6048
Steve Roady/Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Vivian Stockman, OVEC, (304) 927-3265
Janice A. Nease, Coal River Mountain Watch, (304) 854-2182
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