On the heels of last week’s demand for an investigation of what the United Mine Workers alleges are misleading coal exhibits at the West Virginia State Museum, citizen groups have now sued the state Department of Environmental Protection over its refusal to consider “lands unsuitable for mining” protections for historic Blair Mountain in Logan County.
As The Associated Press reported:
Several groups that couldn’t convince state regulators to declare Logan County’s Blair Mountain unsuitable for mining are taking their case to Kanawha Circuit Court.
In a complaint Thursday, they asked the court to force the state Department of Environmental Protection to accept their June petition and hold a hearing.
“DEP can’t just skip the public hearing because it’s more convenient for them to do so,” argued Bill Price of the Sierra Club. “… Blair Mountain belongs to all West Virginians, and all West Virginians have a right to weigh in.”
Recall that WVDEP’s mining director, Tom Clarke, declared the citizens’ petition “frivolous” and refused to even process it — let alone hold a public hearing and examine the matter in any detail. In his letter responding to the original petition, Clarke wrote:
A significant portion of the lands identified in your petition has been affected in the past and continued to be affected by oil and gas and logging operations. These activities have great potential to adversely affect the historic integrity of the lands you have identified. A declaration that the lands you have identified are unsuitable for mining would not effectively protect the historic integrity of these lands because it would have no effect on oil and gas and logging operations.
Because I am rejecting your petition as frivolous, no other findings are being made with respect to it.
Since the 1991 petitions were submitted, a number of new and significant facts have come to light. The exact area for which we had requested unsuitability status is ‘eligible for listing’ on the National Register of historic places, and multiple professionalarchaeological and historical surveys have been completed, which led to the discovery of 15 previously unknown battle sites at Blair Mountain.
And Cindy Rank, mining chair of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, said:
For DEP to dismiss the entire petition because some minor portion of the petition boundary might be ineligible due to prior permitting ignores the value and eligibility of the other 70% of the Battlefield. DEP’s response is an affront to the very intent of the Surface Mine Act, which provides a mechanism to protect important historical sites like Blair Mountain.
In related news, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has denied a request from the Department of Interior to transfer a case challenging the removal of Blair Mountain from the National Register of Historic Places to a federal court in West Virginia.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton noted the “national significance” of the issue. I’ve posted a copy of the ruling here.