Sierra Club
Sierra Club Press Release

For Immediate Release:   October 16, 2012

Contact:
Kim Teplitzky, Sierra Club, 412-802-6161, kim.teplitzky@sierraclub.org

Jerry Hardt, Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, 502-614-6637, jhardt@kftc.org

 

Army Corps Fails To Consider Human Cost of Proposed Coal Mine
 

Groups Contend Army Corps of Engineers Ignored Health Studies When Issuing a New Mountaintop Removal Permit in Kentucky

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to account for the negative health impacts on people living near a massive new mine in Eastern Kentucky according to a lawsuit filed today by the Sierra Club and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

The groups acted to block the permit that allows Leeco, Inc. to destroy more than 3 miles of streams and construct one enormous valley fill at the Stacy Branch mine along the Perry and Knott County border in Eastern Kentucky. The permit, a requirement under the Clean Water Act to begin mountaintop removal mining, was issued by the Corps on July 26th. The organizations contend that the Corps was wrong in issuing the permit because it failed to consider the health impacts of people living near the mine. A similar suit was filed at the same time by the Sierra Club and a number of organizations in West Virginia to block a Corps permit for a surface mine in Boone County, W.Va.

"As a family physician and public health educator who practiced in rural Kentucky for over 30 years, I am concerned about recent research showing that cancer, cardiovascular disease, birth defects and low birth weight babies occur at higher rates in people living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites. These communities also experience a lower overall quality of life and a lower life expectancy. These medical and public health concerns make it extremely important that we take the human health cost of such mining into account in all decisions about such mining practices," said Dr. John Patterson.  

An increasing body of published, peer-reviewed studies shows a strong correlation between mountaintop removal mining and serious public health concerns including higher rates of birth defects, certain forms of cancer, higher heart, lung and kidney disease rates and a lower life expectancy than for the average Kentuckian[1]. The groups filing the action contend that the Army Corps of Engineers must, by law, take these factors into account when issuing permits for mountain top removal mining – something it failed to do in the case of the Stacy Branch mine.

“This mine is going to ruin our neighborhood here in Sassafras. We have several people on my street who already have breathing problems and kids with asthma. Once again no one will be able to enjoy being outside on their porches and in their yards because of all the dust and mud. We lived through this a few years ago when coal trucks were hauling through Sassafras six days a week, hundreds of trucks a day. We hadn’t heard anything about this proposed permit for a few years, I really thought and hoped they had decided to not mine that mountain,” said Pam Maggard, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth from Sassafras, Kentucky.

Further, the organizations argue that the Corps failed to take the required “hard look” at the environmental impacts from the mine because the agency relied on a flawed protocol for assessing whether the proposed stream mitigation can actually replace the streams destroyed by the mining.

"Mountaintop removal mining has put the health of our mountain communities at risk for far too long. I have been exploring the streams in this region for many years and have seen many healthy streams degraded over time from mining impacts. I am greatly concerned for the people who live, fish and play downstream from these mining sites. It is irresponsible for the Corps to approve any permit that doesn’t take the devastating health impacts of mountaintop removal mining into account," said Lane Boldman of the Kentucky Sierra Club.

The complaint was filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. Sierra Club and Kentuckians For Fhe Commonwealth are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett, Amy Vernon-Jones and Mike Becher of Appalachian Mountain Advocates and by Emma Cheuse, Jennifer Chavez and Neil Gormley of Earthjustice. 

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[1] Esch L, Hendryx M. Chronic cardiovascular disease mortality in mountaintop mining areas of central Appalachian states. Journal of Rural Health, 2011, 27, 350-357.

Hendryx M, Wolfe L, Luo J, Webb, B. Self-reported cancer rates in two rural areas of West Virginia with and without mountaintop coal mining. Journal of Community Health, 2012, 37, 320-327.

Hendryx M. Mortality rates in Appalachian coal mining counties: 24 years behind the nation.  Environmental Justice, 1, 5-11, 2008.

Hendryx M. Mortality from heart, respiratory and kidney disease in coal mining areas of Appalachia.  International Archives of Occupational and Environmental Health, 2009, 82, 243-249.