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Citing WVU health studies, groups challenge Alpha permit

Read more: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/ CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citizen groups this week filed a new challenge to an Alpha Natural Resources mining permit, citing in court for the first time a series of West Virginia University studies that found high rates of cancer and birth defects among residents living near mountaintop removal operations.

 

Lawyers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Group and other groups asked U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers to block the permit for the Reylas Surface Mine, proposed by Alpha subsidiary Highland Mining.

Among other things, the lawyers alleged in a Wednesday court filing that the federal Army Corps of Engineers did not properly consider the mine's potential impacts on water quality, failed to allow required public input on parts of the permit, and ignored growing scientific evidence of mountaintop removal's negative public health effects.

Late last month, the corps approved a Clean Water Act permit for the operation, making no significant changes after agreeing to re-examine the project following an initial legal challenge.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials had objected to the permit, but EPA declined to step in and stop the Corps from approving it.

The 635-acre mine, proposed for Logan County, would eventually employ about 100 people for about six years.

The company plans to create a 235-acre site with paved roads and utilities that could later be used for temporary housing during flooding and other emergencies. But the mine also would bury about 2.5 miles of streams beneath a valley fill and associated runoff-control structures.

In seeking a court injunction, environmental group lawyers repeat their previous concerns about conductivity and selenium water pollution, inadequate mitigation for stream damage, and a lack of public input on those mitigation plans.

They also raise new complaints, saying that the corps wrongly concluded that the Reylas Mine would not "contribute to or result in cumulative significant adverse impacts to the aquatic or human environment" in the area. In response to public comments about impacts on the community, the corps declared that, "no human health effects are anticipated as a result of the proposed project."

Environmental group lawyers, though, filed in court copies of three recent studies co-authored by Michael Hendryx, a public health researcher at the WVU School of Medicine's Department of Community Medicine. The studies found generally higher rates of health problems, and specifically higher rates of cancer and birth defects, among residents living in mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.

"The three studies described above present a seriously different picture of the impacts of mountaintop mining on human health than what the corps found," environmental group lawyers Joe Lovett, Derek Teaney and Jim Hecker wrote. "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."

Corps lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice have not yet responded to the new legal filing, and Alpha Natural Resources did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"From degradation of stream water quality and biologic impairment to aquatic life to potential human health impacts and additional disruption to communities and forests in the Dingess Run area, this permit should never have gotten this far" said Cindy Rank, mining committee chair of the Highlands Conservancy. "Everything about the Highland Mining Reylas permit screams for denial and yet the corps marches on."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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