Environmental groups seek to overturn ruling affirming company’s permit

Last updated: September 19. 2013 4:20PM - 1520 Views
Cris Ritchie — Editor

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A federal judge this week has prevented a coal company from beginning work at a mine site at the Knott and Perry County line.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Russell announced his ruling on Wednesday, which orders the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to suspend a 404 permit issued to Leeco last year. His suspension order comes as environmental groups are appealing Russell’s original ruling made in August that affirmed the legality of the permit.

The groups Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Sierra Club filed suit against the Corps in October 2012 in order to halt planned mining at Leeco’s Stacy Branch Mine near Vicco, claiming the Corps failed to comply with federal law, such as the Clean Water Act, by not taking into account the effect valley fills might have on environmental impacts and human health.

The groups claimed mining activities would bury three miles of streams in the area and cause irreparable harm to the local environment and residents living in the area, noting studies which have shown people living near mining sites to be more susceptible to birth defects, chronic diseases, and cancer.

The original permit proposed in 2007 noted the company would construct six valley fills, in which heavy equipment is used to push earth moved during the process of mining into a valley, sometimes covering streams.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued concerns about the project in 2010, resulting in a revised permit in 2011 noting that fewer streams would be affected in the Yellow Creek and Carr Creek watersheds, nearly 4,000 linear feet less, along with five less valley fills. Another proposed permit was issued in July 2012.

Neither notice, the groups claimed, took into account the likely effect on human health.

Attorneys for the Corps responded to the suit, saying no violations took place.

Judge Russell ruled in favor of the Corps in August, noting the agency reasonably analyzed the issues before issuing the permit, which cleared way for the company to begin mining at the site.

The groups appealed the decision, however, and Russell issued a temporary injunction early this month to consider the matter. He extended that injunction this week, suspending Leeco’s 404 permit while Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and Sierra Club seek to overturn Russell’s initial ruling through the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appeals process could take several months to complete.

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