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Court Sides With Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Industry

Conservationists urging new administration to stop mountaintop removal coal mining
February 13, 2009
Richmond, VA —

A panel of federal judges today ruled in favor of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in a controversial mountaintop removal mining case. The ruling will permit mining companies to conduct devastating mountaintop removal coal mining operations without acting to minimize stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews. As a result, Appalachia could now be facing up to 90 new mountaintop removal coal mining operations, which would destroy huge swaths of the Appalachian Mountains.


"Today the coal industry -- aided by the Bush administration's legacy -- is allowing our water to be poisoned," said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. "Tomorrow it will be the East Coast's water supply as the mining discharges will reach downstream water sources."


Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive form of coal mining that has already buried more than 1,200 miles of streams and threatens to destroy 1.4 million acres of land by 2020. The mining poisons drinking water, lays waste to wildlife habitat, increases the risk of flooding and wipes out entire communities.


"Aside from the people, the mountains and streams of West Virginia are two of our greatest assets that should be protected fervently for the benefit of future generations," said Janet Keating executive director of the Huntington, W.Va.-based Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.


Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, had filed suit against the Corps for what it believed was a violation of the Clean Water Act for issuing permits to coal mining companies for mountaintop removal mining without mitigating for stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews.


"We believe the decision is wrong on the law and the science," said Steve Roady, Earthjustice attorney. "This fight is not over until mountaintop removal mining is over. We will continue to litigate, and in addition, the new administration must take immediate steps to curb the terrible practice of mountaintop removal mining and undo the mistakes of the past."


During a campaign stop in Lexington, Kentucky, in August 2007, President Obama implored: "We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels."


"President Obama realizes the destructive nature of mountaintop removal mining," said Earthjustice attorney Jennifer Chavez. "The new administration has a critical opportunity now to chart a new path away from this practice."


"The problem is that the Corps and the court are not listening to the scientists. The scientists tell us that the plans to mitigate stream losses have no scientific basis. The court gave blanket deference to Corps bureaucrats, and none to the contrary opinions of stream scientists. The court's decision will open the floodgates to many more mountaintop removal mining permits that will destroy streams and threaten communities in Appalachia," said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Director for Public Justice.


Earthjustice and the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment, filed this lawsuit challenging several West Virginia mountaintop removal permits in September 2005 on behalf of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia in March 2007 found those permits violated the Clean Water Act.


Additional Resources:

For more information on mountaintop removal mining, visit Stop Mountaintop Removal

Contacts

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.