West Virginia environmentalists on Wednesday sought a new federal court order to block three mountaintop removal mining permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.Lawyers for the three groups asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers for a preliminary injunction to stop the mining operations.“Trying to get the Corps of Engineers to follow the law is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall: It is awfully hard to make it stick,” said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.“The corps gives coal companies permits that are little more than a wink and a nod, and the coal companies waste little time before ripping out trees, choking off streams and filling in valleys with mining waste.”The coalition sought the injunction along with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch.Wednesday’s legal motions were made as part of a suit originally filed in September 2005 to force the corps to conduct more detailed environmental studies before it approves valley fill permits for new mining operations.
The case was a follow-up to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin to block the corps from reviewing valley fill proposals through a streamlined “general permit” process.Goodwin’s ruling has since been overturned by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but environmental groups have asked the full appeals court to reconsider that decision.In the new case, the environmentalists argue that the corps was wrong to approve mining operations through more detailed “individual permit” reviews because those reviews did not include a study called an Environmental Impact Statement.Originally, the suit targeted just one new Massey Energy surface mine in Logan County. It later added another Massey mine in Boone County, and on Wednesday lawyers targeted a third Massey operation near the intersection of Kanawha, Fayette and Raleigh counties.“The mining and valley fills at these three mines collectively will destroy over 2,000 acres of land and smother over seven miles of streams,” the lawyers said in the court papers. “Yet, the corps has neglected to examine in a meaningful way the inevitable damage that will be caused by these mines, or to develop any realistic plan for mitigating that damage.”