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Sierra Club and Local Communities Win Victory in Fight to Stop Destructive Mountaintop Removal Mining
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Federal judge again rules that government used flawed assessment, halts mining

DATE: October 31, 2008


A coalition of local and national environmental groups won a major victory today in their fight against destructive mountaintop removal mining. A federal judge ruled Friday that there are substantial questions regarding a government agency’s compliance with the law when reviewing mining permit applications. The judge then ordered that mining activity under those permits must stop.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Chambers found that the coalition raised substantial questions regarding whether the Army Corps of Engineers satisfied its legal responsibility to fully assess the proposed mine’s impacts on streams, and to ensure that any impacts on streams would be fully mitigated. Judge Chambers then issued the preliminary injunction requested by the coalition, requiring the Fola Coal Company to immediately stop the majority of its mining operations at its Ike Fork No. 1 and No.2 mines in Nicholas and Clay counties. Judge Chambers’ ruling came after two days of detailed testimony by scientific experts at a hearing held on October 22 and 23.

“Mountaintop removal mining is an ongoing social and environmental catastrophe. If this kind of coal extraction depends on the obliteration of our streams, then it is high time for it to stop,” said Jim Sconyers of the West Virginia Sierra Club.

Today’s ruling is just the latest in a string of decisions that have consistently criticized the Corps for its failure to conduct the scientific assessments required by law. In March 2007 Judge Chambers effectively halted all mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia based on the insufficiency of the assessment methods employed by the Corps at that time. The assessment methods at issue in Friday’s ruling were the Corps’ latest attempt to come into compliance with the law.

Fola’s original plans for the area involved the destruction of more than five miles of streams in the Sycamore Run, Ike Fork, and Lilly Fork watersheds of Buffalo Creek, including ten valley fills, the industry’s euphemism for completely burying the headwaters of a stream. The proposed mines would have destroyed 903 acres of some of the most biologically diverse streams and forests in the country. Across Appalachia, mining companies destroy mountains to reach the underlying coal and then dump the resulting millions of tons of debris into the valleys below. This mountaintop removal mining has damaged or destroyed approximately 1,200 miles of streams, destroyed forests on some 300 square miles of land, disrupted drinking water supplies, flooded communities, and destroyed wildlife habitat.

Today’s ruling underscores the danger posed by destructive mountaintop removal mining, a danger appreciated by the majority of American voters who participated in a recent poll. The poll revealed that two out of three likely voters oppose recent efforts by the Bush administration to repeal an environmental law known as the Stream Buffer Zone rule, which prohibits mining activities within 100 feet of a stream. Upon hearing that “more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia already have been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining,” fully 85% of voters say they are concerned about the effects of this mining practice.

The coalition, including Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River MountainWatch, and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, was represented in this challenge by Joe Lovett at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment and Jim Hecker at Public Justice. The Fola Coal Company is a subsidiary of Pittsburghbased CONSOL Energy Inc.

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