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Judge Rules Against Strip Mining

October 21, 1999

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) _ A federal judge has ruled that the state cannot issue strip mining permits for projects that use stream beds to dispose of rock and dirt, a decision a state official said would affect all mining in West Virginia.

The ruling issued Wednesday was a victory for environmentalists who sued last year arguing that allowing coal companies to dump excess rock and dirt into stream beds violates the federal Clean Water Act.

The practice is especially critical to the strip mining technique known as mountaintop removal mining, which has been used increasingly in the Appalachian region in recent years.

In his ruling, U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II said projects that dispose of waste in stream beds are usually so enormous that ``rather than the stream assimilating the waste, the waste assimilates the stream.″

He said using the stream beds for disposal degrades water quality in violation of federal law.

``All the plaintiffs are relieved and encouraged,″ said Cindy Rank, a spokeswoman for the Highlands Conservancy environmental group, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The state Department of Environmental Protection, which issues permits for large strip mines known as mountaintop removal mines, warned that the ruling ``will substantially curb all mining in West Virginia.″

A lawyer for the DEP said an appeal was likely.

Haden’s review of the mountaintop removal issue was a result of Arch Coal Inc.’s efforts to obtain a permit to mine a 3,500-acre site in southern West Virginia’s Logan County.

Arch, based in St. Louis, said it needed the permit because its adjacent Dal-Tex operation had exhausted its coal reserves. Together, the two mines would have stripped more than 10 square miles.

In March, Haden issued a preliminary injunction blocking work on the new mine. His ruling Wednesday made the injunction permanent.

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