Groups file Suit to Block Reylas Mountaintop Removal Mine
October 13, 2011
On October 13, Sierra Club and its allies took action to protect coalfield communities from a destructive mountaintop removal coal mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Sierra Club filed a motion with the U.S. Southern District Court of West Virginia, challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “valley fill” permit for the Highland Reylas mountaintop removal coal mine.
Earlier this year, the Corps suspended the Highland permit in response to the environmental groups’ initial legal challenge. The Corps reinstated the permit in September 2011, however, after conducting a supplemental analysis that failed to address several deficiencies with the permit.
In this latest action, Sierra Club and its allies argue that the Corps failed to consider recent scientific studies demonstrating that mountaintop removal mining operations pose a serious health threat to Appalachian residents. West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx has found startling health and economic effects linked to the practice of mountain top removal mining over the course of multiple studies. Folks living in counties where mountain top removal mining is practiced have a higher mortality rate, are more likely to contract some forms of cancer, or suffer from chronic heart and lung ailments. Hendryx has estimated that the health costs attributed to mountain top removal mining top $42 billion.
“The human costs are simply too high,” said Jim Sconyers, Executive Director of the West Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “The Army Corps of Engineers must acknowledge that harm to the residents of coal country must be taken into account when granting permits. Dr. Hendryx has made groundbreaking progress in his research and the toll on coalfield citizens is truly alarming. We are extremely disappointed that the Obama administration would allow such a devastating mine to go forward without looking at the facts. We simply cannot rely on mountain top removal operations to look after the health and safety of West Virginia residents.”
In March 2009, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it would increase its scrutiny of proposed mountaintop removal mining permits, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson promised at the time that “EPA will use the best science and follow the letter of the law in ensuring we are protecting our environment.” Studies, such as those done by Mr. Hendryx, clearly show that mountaintop removal mining places a significant health burden on the people of Appalachia. The plaintiffs argue that now is the time to discuss those public health effects.
When considering a permit for the Highland Reylas mine the EPA stated that “[a]fter careful consideration, we find that the extensive cumulative and other impacts give this proposed project high potential as a candidate for a 404(c) [veto] action.” Despite this threat, and despite the absence of evidence of any significant changes to the mining plan, EPA has failed to veto the permit.
April 19, 2011
On April 19, in response to a legal challenge brought by a coalition of groups, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps) suspended a permit for mining operations at a new mountaintop removal coal mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The Army Corps stated that it intends to re-evaluate the permit in light of concerns raised by the groups, and may reinstate, modify, or revoke the permit.
“We’re pleased that the Army Corps recognizes the serious problems with the permit,” said Dianne Bady, Co- Director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. "This is just the first step, however, and we are committed to ensuring that the agency meets its obligation to protect clean water and the communities who rely on it."
On March 4, the Army Corps issued a permit to the Highland Mining Company that authorized the destruction of more than two and a half miles of streams at the Reylas Surface Mine. On March 8, the groups filed a formal challenge to the permit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. In response to the groups’ motion, Judge Robert Chambers issued a temporary restraining order to immediately halt coal mining operations at the site pending further proceedings. The groups include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Sierra Club.
The suspended permit would have authorized Highland, a Massey Energy subsidiary, to dump large amounts of coal mining waste into a valley, burying over 13,000 feet of streams in the Dingess Run watershed, a tributary of the Guyandotte River. Over 25% of this watershed has been previously mined or is currently being mined. The company has secured an exemption from the requirement that it restore the site to its "approximate original contour" by indicating that the post-mining land use will be Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) "relocation for residents in the stream valley following flooding events."
The groups are represented by Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney with the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, and Jim Hecker with Public Justice.
Details and Documents:
Groups file Suit to Block Reylas Mountaintop Removal Mine
October 13, 2011, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
Sierra Club et al. Motion in Support of their Renewed Motion for a Declaratory Judgment & Injunctive Relief
October 13, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia
Army Corps Suspends Permit for New Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine Challenged by Community Groups
April 20, 2011, Sierra Club et al. Press Release
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.