Judge Tells Big Coal: Stop Burying Appalachian Streams


Residents successfully stop plans to bury streams, destroy homes in West Virginia


Steve Roady / Jennifer Chavez, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Judy Bonds, Coal River Mountain Watch, (304) 854-2182

A federal judge today put a hold on coal company plans to permanently bury Appalachian streams and threaten homes and neighborhoods in West Virginia by granting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against a mountaintop removal mine. A coalition of local environmental groups challenged the permit on the heels of a major court victory earlier this year against this destructive mining practice.

In ruling that the mining cannot go forward at this time, federal district Judge Robert C. Chambers noted that the environmental groups “made a strong showing that the permits issued by the Corps are arbitrary and capricious, contrary to law, and contrary to the economic and environmental balance struck by Congress in the passage of the relevant environmental statutes.”

The proposed valley fills at the Callisto Mine in Boone County, West Virginia, would have permanently destroyed 5,750 feet of streams and tributaries of Roach Branch, Dry Branch and Lem White Branch of Pond Fork in Boone County. These streams eventually flow into the Little Coal River. The order, issued by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, halts the mining company’s plan to begin new valley fill activities at the site until the court can rule on the groups’ challenge to the Callisto permit.

“The judge just gave hope to other affected residents that live in communities near this type of destructive illegal mining,” said Judy Bonds of Coal River Mountain Watch. “We have hope now that coal companies will no longer be allowed to mine coal in our homes.”

Mountaintop removal mining is a destructive form of coal mining that has already buried more than 1,200 miles of streams and destroyed over 387,000 acres of West Virginia forests and mountains. Mountaintop removal mining also increases severe flooding in communities near mining sites, making life utterly miserable for coalfield residents. Families report sleepless nights and worried children when rain threatens. Blasting damages foundations and dries up wells, and property values plunge as mining operations approach communities.

Bim resident Dorsey Green, whose home in the Dry Branch Hollow is closest to the proposed valley fill, was relieved by the judge’s decision.

“I am so thankful for this ruling. I’ve been a coal miner my whole life and this valley fill would have destroyed my homeplace and everything I have worked for,” Green said. “I have spent many sleepless nights thinking about the terrible representation we as a community get from our regulatory agencies. This ruling will restore my sleep — and my retirement years.”

On March 23, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, represented by Earthjustice, the Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment and now Public Justice, won a victory in the same case, when the Court rescinded four similar valley fill permits. The court ruled that the permits violated the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. In particular, the court found that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers granted the permits without adequately considering the environmental effects of the fills, and without providing any scientific support for the Corps’ claim that stream damage from the valley fills could be offset through “stream creation.” The Callisto Mine valley fill permit suffers many of the same defects as the permits that the court rescinded in March.

“Inch by inch, mile after mile, these illegal fills are changing the face of West Virginia, burying valuable stream valleys and destroying the lives of people who have lived in these valleys for generations,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We are grateful for Judge Chambers ruling; no one wants to put another person out of work but the promise of jobs based on illegal permits is not fair either.”

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