Breaking news: Groups challenge Alpha permit, raising questions about mining’s health impacts

October 13, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

Yesterday, lawyers for several citizen groups filed papers to renew their effort to block a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the the Reylas Surface Mine, proposed by Alpha Natural Resources and its subsidiary, Highland Mining Co.

We just recounted the history of this permit, and an earlier legal challenge by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club, in this previous Coal Tattoo post.

This new legal filing, from Joe Lovett and Derek Teaney of Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Jim Hecker of Public Justice, does a couple of interesting things.

First, it puts Alpha Natural Resources — despite all of CEO Kevin Crutchfield’s talk about “Running Right” (see here, here, here and here)  — smack in the middle of a major legal case over mountaintop removal permitting.

Second, if you read the new legal papers filed by the citizen group lawyers, you’ll see that in this case, they’re putting the growing science indicating public health concerns related to mountaintop removal front and center.

Now, the renewed legal challenge recounts variety of concerns previously raised about this permit:  Conductivity pollution, inadequate mitigation, cumulative impacts, public notice and selenium discharges.

But this time, the lawyers attached three of the landmark WVU studies by Dr. Michael Hendryx (see here, here and here) concerning general health impacts, birth defects and cancer — all things that Dr. Hendryx found in higher rates among residents living in mountaintop removal mines.

The citizen groups allege that the Corps of Engineers clearly was aware of this research, but did not consider it when issuing the Reylas permit. They asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to order the Corps to perform a new analysis, in which agency officials examine these health studies and what they mean for this particular permit. Their legal papers explained:

The three studies described above present a seriously different picture of the impacts of mountaintop mining on human health than what the Corps found. The Corps found no human health impacts at all, while these studies found an increase in unhealthy days and birth defects and a potential doubling of cancer risk.

No word on a hearing yet before Judge Chambers … so stay tuned …

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