CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal appeals court has criticized a streamlined permit process used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, adding to the questions about the way the agency reviews new mountaintop removal mining proposals.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the corps did not properly consider the cumulative impacts of previous mining or document how post-mining "mitigation" measures would make up for any damage to streams.
A three-judge panel of the Cincinnati-based court threw out a streamlined Clean Water Act permit process that was issued by the corps in 2007 and has since been updated with more environmental restrictions.
But the 16-page decision, in a case brought by Kentucky citizen groups, involves broader questions about whether the corps ignores growing scientific evidence about mountaintop removal impacts when it issues new mining permits.
In a decision written by Judge Deborah L. Cook, the 6th Circuit directed the corps to use past mining impacts more carefully to assess cumulative effects and to document in more detail whether mitigation can effectively reduce those effects.
"Up to now, the corps has refused to take these issues seriously and to measure mitigation effectiveness," said Jim Hecker, a Public Justice lawyer who represented citizen groups in the case.
Doug Garman, a corps spokesman, said his agency is reviewing the 6th Circuit decision, but offered no further comment. A National Mining Association spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The issues regarding corps' permitting practices are similar to those in a pending challenge at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to a ruling in which U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers declined to overrule a corps-issued permit in Logan County.
Chambers ruled in a case over an Alpha Natural Resources mining proposal that the corps handled through its more detailed "individual permit" process, instead of the streamlined "nationwide permit" procedure.