By Vivian Stockman|
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The Bush administration has been severely stung in its
attempts to aid the coal industry.
Wednesday, a federal judge ruled that valley fills at mountaintop removal
operations violate the Clean Water Act.
The Bush administration late Friday finalized a rule change that attempted
to legalize valley fills. U.S. District Court Judge Charles H. Haden II
said Tuesday that the rule change itself is illegal, as is the coal company
practice of fill hundreds of miles of streams with former mountaintops. Coal
companies blast off the tops of mountains in southern West Virginia and
Eastern Kentucky to mine thin seams of coal.
Today, bipartisan members of Congress pledged to introduce legislation that
blocks the rule change and cements the original Clean Water Act rule in
"Where do we line up to kiss Judge Haden?" asked Janet Fout, co-director of
the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). The Huntington, W.Va.-based
environmental group says mountaintop removal has devastated coalfield
communities and disrupted entire ecosystems. The group also says last week's
deadly floods, which killed six people in southern West Virginia, were most
likely worsened by mountaintop removal strip mining, because deforested and
scalped mountains and filled-in valleys retain less rainfall runoff than
intact forest ecosystems.
"Bush's coal industry buddies were caught breaking the law, so they lobbied
the administration to rewrite the law in their favor," Fout said. "But Judge
Haden is a sage student of the law of the land. He says valley fills are
illegal under the Clean Water Act. In a victory for our American system of
government, both Judge Haden and members of Congress have reminded Bush and
Co. that only Congress can rewrite laws. The judge's ruling will help
coalfield residents reclaim both their future and democracy itself from the
grip of King Coal."
In an earlier ruling on a lawsuit filed by coalfield residents and
environmental groups, Haden had already declared large valley fills to be
illegal. The coal industry reacted with predications of its demise and
appealed the ruling. The U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that
ruling, saying the case against a state agency should have not been filed in
federal court. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth then filed a new valley fill
case against a federal agency only, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"Judge Haden's bravery, given the doomsday reactions to his first decision,
gives us some hope that the judicial system may actually serve as a balance
to the political and economic influence of the mining industry," said Bill
McCabe, a field organizer with the Citizens Coal Council. "It is refreshing
to see a legal decision that clearly tells outlaw coal companies that the
law does not allow them to destroy our pristine streams and mountains."
"Judge Haden's decision is a victory for West Virginia's rivers and
streams," said Jeremy P. Muller, Executive Director of the West Virginia
Rivers Coalition. "He has upheld the intent and purpose of the Clean Water
Act, and the fact that our rivers are not the coal industry's, or any other
industry's, waste bin -- no matter how much they protest to the contrary."