Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
  Winds of Change Newsletter, June 2011     See sidebar for table of contents

Corps Suspends New MTR Permit After Our Legal Challenge Acknowledges Permit Flaws; Promises to Address Community Concerns

On April 20, in response to our legal challenge, the US Army Corps of Engineers suspended a permit for mining operations at a new mountaintop removal coal mine. The Corps stated that it intends to re-evaluate the permit in light of concerns raised by the EPA and our legal filings.

Together, OVEC, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club filed the challenge, represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment.

"Were pleased that the Corps recognizes the serious problems with the permit," said OVECs Co-Director Dianne Bady. "This is just the first step, however. We are committed to ensuring that the agency meets its obligation to protect clean water and the communities which rely on it."

On March 4, the Corps of Engineers had issued a permit to the Highland Mining Company that authorized the destruction of more than two and a half miles of streams at the Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, WV.

On March 8, the groups filed a formal challenge to the permit in the US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. In response to the groups motion, Judge Robert Chambers issued a temporary restraining order to immediately halt coal mining operations at the site pending further proceedings.

"It is a shame that citizen groups have to bring these challenges at all," said WVHCs mining chair Cindy Rank. "The Army Corps needs to scrutinize these applications from the first, and to rigorously apply the environmental protections in the laws themselves."

The suspended permit would have authorized Highland, a Massey Energy subsidiary, to dump a large amount of coal mining waste into a valley, burying over 13,000 feet of streams in the Dingess Run watershed, a tributary of the Guyandotte River.

Over 25 percent of this watershed has been previously mined or is currently being mined. The company has secured an exemption from the requirement that it restore the site to its "approximate original contour" by indicating that the post-mining land use will be Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) "relocation for residents in the stream valley following flooding events."

This is an especially ironic post-mining land use, since state and federal studies have shown that mountaintop removal mining increases flooding.

"This permit never should have been issued in the first place," said Jim Sconyers, Chair of Sierra Clubs West Virginia Chapter. "We dont need more evidence that these mines hurt communities and the environment. What we need is federal and state oversight with the backbone to uphold and enforce the law."

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