Suits seek to block mountaintop mines in 2 states

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Sierra Club along with environmental groups in Kentucky and West Virginia are attempting to block permitting at two mountaintop surface mines, alleging in federal lawsuits that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not consider potential health impacts on residents.

The lawsuits are the latest effort by activists in central Appalachia to fight the controversial mining method known as mountaintop removal, which uses blasting and heavy equipment to peel away layers of earth and rock and dumping them into valleys. Environmentalists say the dumping introduces harmful substances, like mercury and selenium, into waterways.

The suits filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court seek to block federal permits required under the Clean Water Act for a mine in southeastern Kentucky and another in Boone County, W.Va. The groups say the permits would allow the mining companies to destroy miles of streams by dumping earth and rock removed from the mining sites.

The Kentucky suit is challenging a permit issued in July that allows Leeco Inc. to dump fill material in about three miles of streams from the Stacy Branch mine along the Perry and Knott County border. Leeco is a subsidiary of James River Coal of Richmond, Va. A spokeswoman for the company did not return a request for comment Thursday. In West Virginia, Raven Crest Contracting received a permit in August that allows it to dump at the Boone (hash)5 mine near the community of Peytona. No one answered the phone at a number for Raven Crest in Costa, West Va., on Thursday afternoon.

The environmental groups allege the Corps granted the permits despite the "growing body of scientific evidence indicating significant public health impacts from surface coal mining," the suit said. They allege the Corps "did not perform any human health analysis or reach any human health conclusions" in the permit process, as required by federal law.

A message left for the Corps of Engineers Public Affairs office in Washington was not immediately returned on Thursday.

"This mine is going to ruin our neighborhood," Pam Maggard, a resident of Sassafrass, Ky., said in a statement from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "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."

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, along with the Sierra Club, filed the suit in Kentucky. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch were named as plaintiffs in the West Virginia complaint.


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