US appeals court in Va. OKs W.Va. mine permit
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A federal appeals court on Wednesday refused to block a federal permit for a West Virginia mountaintop removal coal mine that was challenged by environmentalists.
A panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal judge was right to rule that the Army Corps of Engineers did its due diligence when it granted the permit under the Clean Water Act. The permit was for Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources' Highland Reylas surface mine in Logan County.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Sierra Club and Coal River Mountain Watch challenged the permit, saying it would cause irreparable harm to 2 1/2 miles of streams.
The corps argued it anticipated no such effects when it issued a water pollution permit. The court agreed that the agency thoroughly evaluated all evidence before making its decision.
The groups alleged the corps failed to take a "hard look" at the environmental impact of the project. The court sided with the agency, though, citing its work over four years to evaluate the proposed mine and to work with both sides to mitigate any damage.
"With the inability to demonstrate that the Corps failed to take a `hard look,' the Environmental Coalition's arguments are reduced to no more than a substantive disagreement with the Corps," the panel wrote.
Mountaintop removal is a particularly efficient but destructive form of strip mining that blasts apart mountain ridge tops to expose multiple seams of coal. The practice of flat-topping the mountains, then filling valleys and covering streams with rubble has divided communities and led to confrontations between coal miners and environmentalists.