The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to account for the negative health impacts on people living near a massive new mine in Boone County, according to a lawsuit filed last by the Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and Coal River Mountain Watch.
The complaint was filed against the US Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.
The lawsuit wants to block a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit that allows Raven Crest Contracting to “destroy” nearly 3 miles of streams at the Boone #5 mine in Boone County, according to the groups.
The permit, a requirement under the Clean Water Act to begin mountaintop removal mining, was issued by the Army Corps on August 30.
The organizations contend in the lawsuit that the Corps was wrong in issuing the permit because it failed to review the human health impacts on people living near the mine. A similar suit was filed at the same time by the Sierra Club and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth to block a Corps permit for a surface mine along the Perry and Knott County border in Eastern Kentucky.
“In my practice as a family physician in Huntington, I see many patients who live in the West Virginia coalfields,” said Dr. Syndee McElroy. “There is a growing body of peer-reviewed research showing a correlation between certain chronic conditions and morbidity with the prevalence of mountaintop removal mining in nearby counties. I have seen unexplained health disparities in my patient population and I'm concerned that mountaintop removal mining could be affecting the health of my patients. For the health and safety of Appalachian citizens, the Army Corps of Engineers must take these health concerns into account.”
The groups claim an increasing body of studies shows a correlation between mountaintop removal mining and serious public health concerns including higher rates of birth defects, certain forms of cancer, higher heart, lung and kidney disease rates and a lower life expectancy than for the average American. The groups filing the action contend that the Army Corps of Engineers must, by law, take these factors into account when issuing permits for mountaintop removal mining – something it failed to do in the case of the Boone #5 mine.
“It’s not news anymore,” said Jim Sconyers of the West Virginia Sierra Club. “We know that mountaintop removal mining makes our people sick. Protecting people’s health must be paramount. And having coal companies build pristine streams is almost laughable. The Corps must get its priorities straight.”
Further, the organizations argue that the Corps has failed to consider the impacts of mining through high quality streams.
“Under the current permit, Raven Crest will be allowed to destroy almost three miles of streams because it claims it can rebuild them,” the groups lawsuit says. “However, due to the pristine nature of some of the impacted waterways, citizen groups claim that it would be impossible for the company to return the streams to a similar quality.”
"As a little boy we lived in Ashford just up the hill from where the Raven Crest sign now stands,” said Julian Martin of the WV Highlands Conservancy. “My grandfather and grandmother owned a small general store in Ashford near the bridge over Coal River. I learned to swim in that river. I am the eighth generation to have been born in that area and am deeply saddened to see the massive destruction to the mountains and streams caused by mountaintop removal strip mining and to know that those mines also threaten the health of our people."
"Growing up, I thought of Peytona and Racine as a timeless and unchanging place with beautiful free flowing steams and small communities where at least seven generations of my ancestors have lived healthy, productive lives,” ," said Robin Blakeman, a Community Organizer for OVEC. “Unfortunately the increased strip mining by Raven Crest is now threatening Roundbottom, Peytona and Racine with a variety of problems including dust, blasting damage and toxic water pollution so bad that I worry about the impacts on unborn children and others at risk of cancer, kidney disease or a variety of other major illnesses. It's time the Corps and other regulatory agencies begin to pay attention to the potential human health risks posed by this and similar mining, and deny their application for permits to expand their operations.
“Our futures depend on having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink,” said Debbie Jarrell, Co-Director of Coal River Mountain Watch. “Coal industry profits will not sustain our lives here in West Virginia. Why do elected officials allow these companies preferential treatment at the cost of our people? Where is the outrage, or concern, over the studies that are beginning to show the effects mountaintop removal has on our people, our water and our communities?”
Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, and Coal River Mountain Watch are represented in this matter by Joe Lovett, Amy Vernon-Jones and Mike Becher of Appalachian Mountain Advocates.