Federal Court Says Army Corps of Engineers Ignored Public Process in Issuing Permits for Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in WV
Decision Could Send Dozens of Pending Permits Back for Additional Public Comment
Charleston, WV. -- The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia scolded the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Tuesday for having issued two permits for mountaintop removal coal mining that did not follow public notification laws, a decision that could lead to the resubmission of hundreds of permits for new mining across Appalachia. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch had brought a challenge against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Huntington, West Virginia and praised the ruling.
"Thank goodness for the judicial branch of government and the ultimate rule of law," said OVEC’s Vivian Stockman. "We’ve had to resort to the courts because the agencies that are supposed to protect the public are instead kowtowing to the coal industry. For the mountains, streams and communities that still remain, we now have time to comment on why it's not smart to destroy Appalachia in the name of 'cheap' energy."
The decision by U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers involves two mines: the Nellis mine in Boone County, West Virginia, operated by Loadout, LLC, and the Ike Fork Mine in Clay County, WV, operated by Fola Coal Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Consol Energy. Although significant mining has already occurred at the Ike Fork mine, Judge Chambers instructed the Army Corps to reissue the amended notice for the permits, respond to public comments, and reconsider the issuance of the permits.
"This decision reaffirms that the Army Corps permitting process has been violating the law," said Mary Anne Hitt, Deputy Director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign. "Now that the public will finally have full access to information about the true impacts of a project when they review mountaintop removal coal mining permits, we are confident that this destruction's days are numbered."
"The Army Corps' method for giving public notice has been to withhold the specific information needed by the public to understand and comment on mining projects, and then later dismiss the public comments that were submitted for lacking specificity," said Jim Hecker, Environmental Enforcement Project Director at Public Justice. "The Court held that this violates the Army Corps' own regulations and is fundamentally unfair."
"Unfortunately, this decision is too late to save all the streams and communities near these sites," said Vernon Haltom with Coal River Mountain Watch. "We hope that public participation in the permitting process from this point on will be substantial, rather than the token pencil-whipping exercise we've seen from the Army Corps and failed agencies such as the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection."
The groups were represented in the legal challenge by the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Public Justice.