Public Justice Wins Strict New Limits on Mountaintop Removal Mine Permits
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has decided to renew a “nationwide permit” (NWP) for coal mining in Appalachia — a permit Public Justice first challenged in 1999 — with severe restrictions preventing its use for most mountaintop removal operations.For years, the Corps rubber-stamped NWPs for mining operations, claiming they had minimal environmental impact, even though coal companies were using this permit to fill hundreds of miles of streams with mining waste. Public Justice has repeatedly sued the Corps in federal court to challenge this conclusion. In 2009, Public Justice successfully blocked use of the NWP in southern West Virginia, prompting the Corps to suspend it throughout Appalachia, but the suspension will end when the existing NWP expires next month.
Now, the Corps has decided that the renewed NWP cannot be used in the future to authorize any valley fills that bury streams. The Corps has also rejected stream creation as a mitigation measure.
In effect, then, the Corps’ new decision essentially admits that the harm from mining is severe and difficult to mitigate.
Without a viable NWP — and without being able to use stream creation to offset impacts — mining companies will now have to apply for more stringent individual permits and will have a harder time showing that they can offset the harm from disturbing streams.
Public Justice’s work, in conjunction with its clients and co-counsel, was instrumental in causing this policy change. Environmental Enforcement Project Director Jim Hecker and Joe Lovett of Appalachian Mountain Advocates have been battling for more than a decade against illegal mountaintop removal mining.