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[cdn-nucl-l] More on the Mountaintop Removal Saga
Another news item on coal.
AmeriScan: September 9, 2004
Bush Administration Appeals Mountaintop Removal Ruling
WASHINGTON, DC, September 9, 2004 (ENS) - The U.S. Justice Department is
appealing the latest federal court ruling that imposes a strict permit
process on mountaintop removal coal mining.
Thin layers of low sulfur coal lie under the mountains of southern West
Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Too narrow to be mined by traditional deep
mining methods, coal companies blast off the mountaintops, scoop out the
coal, and dump millions of tons of waste rock into the streams below.
Lawyers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Thursday appealed the July 8
ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin enjoining many coal mining
projects in southern West Virginia to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the case of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Bulen, the judge ruled
in favor of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, halting "general"
permits for 11 existing mines if they had not yet started filling valley
On August 13, Judge Goodwin suspended all such permits where valley fills
had not started as of July 8.
The court's ruling invalidated a Clean Water Act permit known as Nationwide
Permit 21 (NWP 21) under which the Corps of Engineers may authorize surface
mining projects to discharge rock, dirt, and other fill material into
streams if the discharges will have only minimal adverse effects on the
Judge Goodwin ruled that coal companies must go through individual permit
reviews when they propose to bury streams with waste dirt and rock and that
NWP 21 does not apply to mountaintop removal mining in southern West
Assistant Attorney General Thomas Sansonetti said the government is
appealing because the order does not affect coal mining in any other portion
of West Virginia or any other state. "The court's ruling means there are now
inconsistent standards for coal mining in the U.S," he said.
"The decision, while limited to the southern part of West Virginia, will
substantially curtail production of West Virginia coal that is low in sulfur
and, therefore, less polluting," Sansonetti said.
"Although the mining companies may still apply for individual permits under
the Clean Water Act, the invalidation of NWP 21 prevents the Corps of
Engineers from effectively using a less burdensome and more streamlined
statutory program that has been in place since 1984," Sansonetti said.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition says the mountaintop removal process
is an environmental disaster. "Coal companies first raze the forests and
scrape away the topsoil, usually without even saving the soil or potential
lumber, let alone the understory herbs such as ginseng and goldenseal," the
"Next, they blast up to 800 feet off mountaintops, with explosives up to 100
times as strong as the ones that tore open the Oklahoma City Federal
building. Giant machines then scoop out the layers of coal, dumping millions
of tons of overburden, the former mountaintops, into the narrow adjacent
valleys, thereby creating valley fills."
"Coal companies have forever buried over 1,000 miles of biologically crucial
Appalachian headwaters streams," says the coalition.
The coalition says mountaintop removal mining displaces entire communities,
ruins water wells, and causes flooding and landslides in the clearcuts left
"Coal trucks overloaded with twice the legal weight-limits are out of
control, killing people and tearing up roads and bridges which taxpayers
have to pay to fix," the coalition says.
Sansonetti said the Bush administration "remains committed to protecting
human health and the environment in all mining authorizations, but believes
that the court erroneously invalidated a key tool in regulating mine