CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citizen group lawyers are again trying to force the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to examine the growing body of science that links living near mountaintop removal operations to greater risk of serious health impacts before the agency issues new mining permits.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Sierra Club this week asked a federal judge in Kentucky to vacate a new permit for Leeco Inc., arguing that the corps ignored scientific studies when it approved a Clean Water Act permit for the 870-acre operation near Vicco, Ky.
"Despite the growing body of scientific evidence that large-scale surface mining increases the risk and severity of cancer, pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions, the corps did not conduct any review of potential public health impacts of this mine," the lawyers argued in legal papers filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, Ky.
The suit over the Leeco permit is one of two actions citizen groups filed last October in a renewed effort to force regulatory agencies to examine mountaintop removal not only as an environmental issue but also as a potential threat to public health.
West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx and others have co-authored more than 20 studies that have found generally higher rates of health problems, and specifically rates of cancer and birth defects, among residents living near mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.
In a previous case over an Alpha Natural Resources permit in Logan County, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers refused to allow citizen groups to present testimony about the public-health studies on mountaintop removal.
Environmental groups have not funded Hendryx, but those groups have seized on his findings to argue that mountaintop removal isn't just an issue about mining's effects on salamanders, mayflies or isolated mountains streams.
Coal lobbyists have disputed the study findings and industry lawyers have so far kept the science out of courtroom battles over new mining permits. The National Mining Association funded one published study that disputed the WVU findings, and mining companies are backing a $15 million, multi-university effort aimed at showing the public "what the science really shows."