Environmentalists and coalfield residents won their first victory Friday in a lawsuit which aims to curb mountaintop removal strip mining, court records showed.
The Army Corps of Engineers was ordered by a federal judge to provide documents and testimony about its role in permitting strip-mine waste piles, called valley fills.
Corps lawyers were also ordered to appear at a hearing before Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II on Nov. 12.
The hearing will focus on a motion filed by environmentalists seeking a preliminary injunction to stop the corps from permitting more valley fills.
Old-time strip mining chipped away at hillsides to expose coal reserves. Mountaintop removal blasts off entire mountaintops to uncover coal veins. What's left of the mountaintops is dumped into nearby hollows and streams in waste piles known as valley fills.
In mid-July, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and 10 coalfield residents filed a lengthy lawsuit which aims to rein in mountaintop removal mining.
Among other charges, the suit alleges the corps has illegally permitted valley fills under the "dredge and fill" provisions of the Clean Water Act.
The suit alleges that those permits are not allowed to be used for waste disposal activities, such as valley filling. If that is true, then valley fills must receive pollution discharge permits under a much more stringent section of the Clean Water Act.