A coalition of environmentalists and coalfield residents filed a federal court lawsuit on Thursday to try to curb mountaintop removal coal mining.
The suit states that the state Division of Environmental Protection "has routinely approved surface coal mining permits which decapitate the state's mountains and dump the resulting waste in valleys, burying hundreds of miles of headwaters of West Virginia's streams."
These permits, the suit alleges, have been illegally issued in violation of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the federal Clean Water Act.
"The environmental and social impacts of mountaintop removal mining extend well beyond the streams that are actually filled," the 48-page complaint alleges. "Significant portions of the state's forests and mountains are destroyed.
"The communities below these massive operations are often devastated," it continues.
"The residents are effectively forced from their homes by blasting which often cracks the walls and foundations of their houses, dust, noise, flyrock, the threat of flooding, fear that the valley fills above their homes are unstable, and the degradation of stream and well water," it says.
The suit was filed Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
Named as defendants are Michael Miano, director of the state DEP, and Col. Dana Robertson, Lt. Gen. Joe N. Ballard and Michael D. Gheen of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The suit was filed on behalf of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and 10 coalfield residents. The residents are Patricia Bragg, James W. Weekley, Sibby R. Weekley, Harry M. Hatfield, Carlos Gore, Linda Gore, Cheryl Price, Jerry Methena, Tommy Moore, and Victoria Moore.
The plaintiffs are represented by Charleston lawyer Joseph M. Lovett of the non-profit firm Mountain State Justice, Morgantown lawyer Suzanne M. Weise, West Virginia University law professor Patrick C. McGinley and James M. Hecker of the Washington group Trial Lawyers for Public Justice.
The suit had been expected for months. The plaintiffs filed two formal notices of intent to sue with DEP in April and June, but said in their complaint on Thursday that the agency had not taken any action to fix alleged regulatory problems.
Among the specific allegations in the suit:
Strip mine waste piles called valley fills are illegal, because the Corps is not allowed to issue "dredge and fill" permits under the Clean Water Act for dumping waste materials in streams.
Under federal law, the Corps can only issue those permits for fill materials, which are defined as "material used for the primary purpose of replacing an aquatic area with dry land or of changing the bottom elevation of a waterbody.