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Judge rules corps can ignore mining health studies

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer

A federal judge in Charleston ruled this week that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not have to consider scientific studies linking mountaintop removal to public health problems when the agency approves new Clean Water Act permits for mining operations.

U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. on Monday turned down an effort by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups to force the corps to consider potential adverse human health effects as part of the review of applications for “dredge-and-fill” permits from strip-mining operators.

The case concerned a permit application from Raven Crest Contracting for its proposed Boone North No. 5 Surface Mine, a 725-acre site in Boone County, near the communities of Peytona and Racine.

Citizen groups had urged the corps to look closely at four specific studies that examined that increased risks of adverse health effects experienced by residents who live near mountaintop removal mining operations.

Those studies were among more than two dozen peer-reviewed reports that found increased risks of cancer, birth defects, and premature death among residents living near large-scale surface coal mining in Central Appalachia. Industry officials have dismissed the findings, and elected officials and regulators have for the most part ignored them.

In a 57-page ruling, Copenhaver concluded that the corps was “not unreasonable” in excluding the studies from its permit review because the articles “do not contemplate that the health effects were caused by the type” of water discharges authorized by the corps’ permit.

Five months ago, the 6th U.S. Court of Appeals issued a similar decision concerning a surface mine permit in Kentucky.

Citizen groups are pushing for federal legislation that would require the health effects of mountaintop removal to be considered before permits can be issued.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com, 304-348-1702 or follow @kenwardjr on Twitter.


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