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Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II said that valley fill waste piles are not allowed in streams that flow year-round or part of the year.
Fills are legal only in smaller streams that flow when it rains or when snow melts, the judge said.
In a landmark ruling, Haden concluded that valley fills in perennial and intermittent streams violate federal and state mining rules and the federal Clean Water Act.
Perennial streams flow all year. Intermittent streams flow at least six months of the year.
"When valley fills are permitted in intermittent and perennial streams, they destroy those stream segments," Haden wrote in a 49-page order filed Wednesday afternoon.
"The normal flow and gradient of the stream is now buried under millions of cubic yards of excess spoil waste material, an extremely adverse effect," the judge said.
"If there are fish, they cannot migrate. If there is any life form that cannot acclimate to life deep in a rubble pile, it is eliminated," he said. "No effect on related environmental values is more adverse than obliteration.
"Under a valley fill, the water quality of the stream becomes zero," he wrote. "Because there is no stream, there is no water quality."
Haden ordered the state Division of Environmental Protection not to issue any more permits that allow valley fills in perennial and intermittent streams.
"I am issuing a director's order [today] that no new fill permits will be issued," said Michael Castle, state Division of Environmental Protection director. "No existing fills or permitted fills can be advanced."
Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conser vancy, praised Haden.
"That's wonderful," Rank said, when told of the ruling. "We're grateful that Judge Haden has ruled in our favor. We think it's a right and justifiable position, or we wouldn't have taken this to court in the first place."
Doug Gibson, spokesman for the United Mine Workers, said union lawyers would read the ruling and issue a statement later. Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, did not return phone calls Wednesday.
Gov. Cecil Underwood scheduled a news conference for 9:15 a.m. today to discuss the ruling.
"We have not had a chance to review any details of the ruling at this time," said Dan Page, spokesman for the governor. "However, the initial reading suggests that this is a devastating ruling to the coal industry and the people who work in it, and imperils the entire economy of West Virginia."
Ben Bailey, a lawyer for DEP, said the agency will file an immediate appeal.
Haden spoke to one key issue in a complicated federal court lawsuit over mountaintop removal: Whether valley fills violate a rule which bans strip mining within 100 feet of streams.
Lawyers for the coal industry, the state and citizen groups have proposed to settle other issues in the July 1998 lawsuit. They said they couldn't reach agreement on the buffer zones and asked the judge to resolve it.
Haden has not decided whether he will approve the settlement of other issues in the case. A hearing on the settlement is scheduled for Oct. 27 in Charleston.