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Citizen Groups Win Temporary Halt to Destruction at Kentucky Coal Mine

Simultaneous appeal calls for officials to acknowledge and address health risks during permitting of mountaintop removal mining projects
September 3, 2013
Washington, D.C. —

Today a U.S. District Court decided leave in place an order it issued late last Friday requiring Leeco Inc. to halt mountaintop removal mining at the Stacy Branch mine near the town of Vicco in Eastern Kentucky. Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, have appealed the District Court’s August 23 decision rejecting their claims and also asked for an injunction to ensure that the environment and public health are not harmed while they are arguing their appeal in the Sixth Circuit. The Court agreed to issue a temporary injunction while it considers the groups’ request for a longer pause.

The District Court ruling that the groups are appealing allows the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to ignore human health risks when it decides whether to permit a mountaintop removal coal mine and approves the agency’s decision to allow coal companies to bury streams based on the company’s promise to try to enhance other streams in the state.

The following are statements from plaintiffs and attorneys in the case:

Neil Gormley, Earthjustice attorney:
“There is strong and growing evidence that Appalachian people who live near mountaintop removal mines are at increased risk for cancer, heart disease, and other serious health problems, but the Corps of Engineers ignored those risks here. We are optimistic that the Court of Appeals will agree that federal agencies can’t let companies blow up mountains without acknowledging and addressing public health risks.”

Alice Whitaker, Director of the Lotts Creek Community School and Wellness Program and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth:
“I’m quite concerned since we are spending a lot of time and effort and money trying to make this area healthy. This congressional district is listed as one of the unhealthiest in the country. If we’re going to make any progress we’re going to have to get to the root cause of our health problems. One of the root causes is Appalachian citizens being exposed to mountaintop removal mining garbage.”

Mary Cromer, Appalachian Citizens' Law Center (KY) attorney:
"More and more scientific reports are being published linking proximity to large-scale surface mines to numerous health effects, including lung and kidney disease, cancers, and birth defects. We are appealing this case to the Sixth Circuit, because the law requires that human health effects be considered when these large-scale mines are permitted. We are hopeful that on review, the Sixth Circuit will overturn the District Court's ruling and ensure that the Administration consider the health of the nearby residents before allowing these large-scale mines to go forward."

Lane Boldman, Sierra Club Kentucky Chapter:
“Mountaintop removal mining not only poisons our drinking water and destroys our land, but is linked to serious and deadly illnesses including cancer, heart, lung and kidney diseases. The Corps has consistently failed in their responsibility to consider all of the environmental impacts of this dangerous form of mining, leaving Appalachian families to pay the price. We hope the Court of Appeals will agree that our federal agencies have a responsibility to safeguard our water and our health.”

Read the appeal court filing.

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law organization dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment.

The Sierra Club is America's largest grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.1 million members and supporters nationwide. The Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying and litigation.

KFTC is a grassroots organization of 7,500 members across Kentucky. We have local chapters and at-large members in many counties. We use a set of core strategies, from leadership development to communications and voter empowerment, to impact a broad range of issues, including coal and water, new energy and transition, economic justice and voting rights.

The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center is a nonprofit law firm based in Kentucky that fights for justice in the coalfields by representing coal miners and their families on issues of black lung and mine safety and by working with grassroots groups and individuals to protect the land and people from misuse and degradation caused by extractive industries.

 

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Contacts

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2007

Sean Sarah, Sierra Club, (330) 338-3740

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.