The coal mining industry coalition led by the National Mining Association received a ruling today in its favor from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in its challenge to memoranda issued in 2009 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In these memoranda, the agencies had agreed to coordinate their review of 108 then-backlogged permit applications for mountaintop removal mine waste disposal that raised serious environmental concerns.
Polluted Cabin Creek in West Virginia. (Mark Schmerling)
At the time of the court’s ruling, there were 21 permit applications covered by the 2009 coordination process, including 13 in Kentucky and 8 in West Virginia that remained pending under agency review. More than 50 miles of mountain streams are threatened with destruction by these pending permit applications if the Corps and EPA do not exercise their legal authority and responsibility to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act. Today’s ruling has no effect on EPA’s Final Guidance or any other pending permit applications, which are not subject to the 2009 memoranda.
“While the coal industry may have succeeded in part of one lawsuit against government agencies, we will continue to support the EPA in their role protecting U.S. families, waters and local communities, and ensure that those protections become stronger,” said Ed Hopkins, Director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program. “We will continue working to protect mountains and streams, even as the coal industry tries to continue destroying them.”
“If the Army Corps and EPA don’t do their job, we will only face more devastating loss of our mountains and streams,” said Dianne Bady, co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington WV. “That’s why we need everyone around the nation who cares about our nation’s waterways to call these agencies now and tell them to stand up to the coal industry where it most counts—in their decisions on individual permit applications.”
“Without strong federal oversight and scrutiny of individual permit applications we in West Virginia will find ourselves once more in a rapid decline and a race to the bottom in the universe of protecting our streams and communities from the destruction of the coal industry,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. “We will never be able to effect change from within our individual states without federal input and the voices of everyone across the country that care about our nation’s waters to call and voice their support for strong EPA action on mountaintop removal mining.”
“With the increasing documentation of mountaintop removal’s impacts to human health in our communities, we urgently need strong federal enforcement,” said Vernon Haltom, executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “We call on all Americans to contact the agencies involved and demand justice for our families, in spite of the political pressure from coal lobbyists.”
“We all want healthy people and healthy communities, and those start with clean water and a safe environment,” said Suzanne Tallichet, vice-chair of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth. “So far, the EPA is the only governmental agency that has been willing to acknowledge these threats to our land and people. That’s why we need them to do their job and enforce clean water laws—and why we will continue supporting EPA’s efforts to protect our local communities and our waters.”
“Immediate action is needed to call on the President and the Army Corps of Engineers to follow the Clean Water Act and not issue any more unlawful mountaintop removal mining permits in the Appalachian region, which simply cannot afford more devastation from mountaintop removal mining,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse. “It is also vital for the EPA to exercise its full legal responsibility and veto any permit that would cause unacceptable harm to U.S. waters, as it appropriately did earlier this year for the Spruce No. 1 Mine in West Virginia.”
For more information: Enhanced Coordinated Process