Federal Judge Robert C. Chambers, US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, ruled in favor of environmental groups in their claim against coal mine operators and practices related to mountaintop removal mining.*  This form of surface mining involves blasting off the top of mountains, scooping out the coal, and dumping the unwanted rock and soil into the valley.  This waste material often chokes off streams and causes other damage to the communities and the environment in the down-below valleys.  The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Coal River Mountain Watch, and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, applauded the judge’s ruling, the second time the judge ruled in favor of the environmental groups’ efforts to stop mountain-top mining (MTM).

Coal River Mountain Watch calls MTM ” the most outrageous of all coal mining methods” and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy offers a link to a short film about MTM called Bringing Down the Mountains and produced by three high school students from Greensburg, Pennsylvania.

Ken Ward’s article Mine Ponds Rule Illegal in the June 14 Charleston Gazette notes that the federal judge’s ruling is:

“the second time in three months that Chambers has dealt a major blow to the coal industry with a ruling to more strictly regulate moutaintop removal mining.  In March, Chambers blocked four [Corps of Engineers] permits for Massey Energy operations, ruling that the agency officials had not fully evaluated the potential environmental damage before approving the operations.”

The Gazette reporter provides an exceptional quote from Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association:

“It’s absolutely astounding to me.  Here’s a judge outlawing a practice that has been in place for almost four decades.”

You know, we used to allow industrial waste dumping into the Great Lakes, and emissions of lead-polluted automobile exhaust into the ambient air.  Thank goodness environmental and public health concerns finally prevailed, even after decades of damaging practices.

*Update (6/19/06):  In an earlier version of this post, my headline used the phrase “mountaintop mining”; it now reads “mountaintop removal.”  I learned from a knowledgable source that the correct legal term, pursuant to the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (Public Law 95-87), is “mountaintop removal.”  

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