The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to account for the negative health impacts on people living near new mines in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, according to two separate lawsuits filed Oct. 17 by environmental groups.
In one case, the Sierra Club and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth filed q complaint in a Kentucky federal court, and in the other, the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch filed in a West Virginia federal court.
The groups acted to block two Corps permits – one that allows Leeco Inc. to impact more than 3 miles of streams and construct a valley fill at the Stacy Branch mine along the Perry and Knott County border in eastern Kentucky, the Sierra Club said in an Oct. 17 statement. The second Section 404 Clean Water Act permit allows Raven Crest Contracting LLC to impact nearly 3 miles of streams at the Boone #5 mine in Boone County, W.Va., the club said.
The permits were issued by the Corps on July 26 for Leeco and August 30 for Raven Crest. The environmental organizations contend that the Corps was wrong in issuing the permits because it failed to consider the health impacts on people living near the mines.
“As a family physician and public health educator who practiced in rural Kentucky for over 30 years, I am concerned about recent research showing that cancer, cardiovascular disease, birth defects and low birth weight babies occur at higher rates in people living near mountaintop removal coal mining sites,” said Dr. John Patterson. “These communities also experience a lower overall quality of life and a lower life expectancy. These medical and public health concerns make it extremely important that we take the human health cost of such mining into account in all decisions about such mining practices.”
The organizations made further claims in both cases about impacts on local streams. In the case of the Stacy Branch mine they argued that the Corps failed to take the required “hard look” at the environmental impacts from the mine because the agency relied on a flawed protocol for assessing whether the proposed stream mitigation can actually replace the streams destroyed by the mining.
At the Boone #5 mine, they argued that the Corps failed to consider the impacts of mining through high quality streams. Due to the pristine nature of some of the impacted waterways, the citizen groups claim it would be impossible for the company to return the streams to a similar quality.
The Leeco complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The Raven Crest Contracting complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Raven Crest Contracting is a unit of Xinergy Ltd., while Leeco is a subsidiary of James River Coal (NASDAQ: JRCC). Section 404 permits like these have been tough to get and to use in recent years due to multiple environmental group lawsuits and a get-tough approach to the Corps permitting process adopted by the Obama U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.