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Wayne Parsons
Wayne Parsons
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Virginia Mountaintop Mine That Would Pollute Miles of Streams With Mining Waste Blocked By Top Consumer Group, Public Justice

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Less than a week after Public Justice filed a complaint in federal court and threatened to seek a temporary restraining order, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended its permit that would have allowed A&G Coal Corporation to begin filling nearly three miles of streams with mining waste at its planned 1,291-acre Ison Rock Ridge Surface Mine, which would be within sight of the Derby Historic District that is listed on the National Register.

On behalf of the Sierra Club and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Public Justice’s April 30, 2009 complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia challenges the Corps’ conclusions that it could use a streamlined nationwide permit for this huge mine and other similar mines in southwest Virginia and that it had adequately considered historic preservation issues. Nationwide permits can only be used for small projects with cumulatively minimal environmental impacts.


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As reported by The Alliance for Appalachia in an article on their website entitled:

Under Pressure, Army Corps Suspends Fill Permit for Virginia Mountaintop Removal Coal Mine -Community members praise decision to protect streams, residents

Big Stone Gap, Virginia – The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has informed A&G Coal company of Wise County, Virginia that it will be suspending its previously granted “Nationwide 21” permit for dumping waste into streams at the proposed Ison Rock Ridge surface coal mine in Southwest Virginia. In a letter released today, the Army Corps informed A&G that the suspension is due to the “significant lapse of time” between federal approval and state review and because of concerns raised by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as to the cumulative impacts of the mine.

The Army Corps’ action this week follows a letter from the EPA asking the Army Corps to revoke the permit – which had been approved by the Army Corps in August 2007 – because of concerns of inadequate mitigation and the overall cumulative impacts of surface mining in the Powell River Watershed.

“Its great to see that all our work is paying off,” said Pete Ramey, retired coal miner and president of the group Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS). “We’ve spent so much time and energy as a community on Ison Rock Ridge over the last two years building this struggle and getting our neighbors involved. This really and truly is a great victory for the people and streams of Southwest Virginia.”

A&G needs both the Army Corps fill permit and a state mining permit before it can begin mining. The Virginia Department of Mines Minerals and Energy (DMME), the state agency responsible for issuing the mining permit, had been expected to make a decision soon on that permit, which is the focal point of a struggle between communities and mining companies for more than two years.

“Our community is against destroying this mountain, and we are glad to see that the Corps and EPA are willing to do what’s right,” said resident Bob Mullins, whose property borders the proposed mine. “I look forward to hearing similar news from DMME soon.”

This news is just one more step in a recent series of actions by federal agencies to protect Ison Rock Ridge from being forever destroyed by the proposed massive 1,300 acre mountaintop removal site. Communities and environmental groups will now be looking to DMME to deny the mining permit outright and to solidify the Army Corps action and protect the hundreds of people who live in the surrounding area.

“Although the Army Corps only suspended the permit, we doubt that it can ever be reissued,” said Jim Hecker, an attorney with Public Justice. “Both EPA’s recent objection letter and a recent West Virginia court decision recognize that the impacts of mountaintop removal mines like this one are so large that they are ineligible for “cookie-cutter,” nationwide permits. We now expect that, if A&G Coal wants to open this mine, it will have to obtain an individual permit, which will require much more rigorous environmental review.”

The suspension builds on Public Justice’s April 2009 victory in West Virginia, where a federal judge enjoined the Corps from using the same nationwide permit for coal mines in that state. The Corps’ action was also in response to pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which wrote a letter to the Corps, supporting Public Justice’s claims that mines like Ison Rock Ridge cause serious environmental harm that cannot be effectively mitigated.

In addition to Hecker, counsel in the case are Joe Lovett at the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, WV, Walt Morris in Charlottesville, VA, and Andrea Ferster in Washington, DC. The organization Public Justice led by one of our great consumer advocates Arthur Bryant has led the battle to protect the environment from the brutailities and irresponsibilities of the CEO’s and CFO’s of the mining companies.

Read the complaint in Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards v. Anninos.