Bob Bird  /  AP file
The top of this mountain near Kayford, W. Va., was removed for coal mining. Environmentalists oppose the practice, having sued in West Virginia in 2002 and in Kentucky on Thursday.
updated 1/28/2005 9:36:28 AM ET 2005-01-28T14:36:28

Environmentalists have sued the federal government in an attempt to stop coal mining companies from lopping off the tops of mountains and dumping the rocks and dirt into valleys.

The lawsuit seeks to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from issuing permits for the dumping, which environmentalists claim will destroy Kentucky’s streams.

“This is an absurd and outrageous abuse of their power and neglect of their duty to protect the nation’s waterways,” said Teri Blanton, a member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, one of three groups that filed the suit Thursday in Lexington.

The mining industry has increasingly relied on mountaintop removal to expose coal seams because it’s a quick and efficient process.

Industry's response
Bill Caylor, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, said environmentalists overstate the effect of valley fills — especially by claiming that they fill streams.

Actually, Caylor said, the dirt and rock is dumped in valleys with tiny ditches that are dry except during rainy periods and do not support fish.

“If these were not deemed streams, which they are not, then we wouldn’t have a problem,” he said.

Caylor said if the lawsuit is successful, coal companies would be hampered in their ability to work “because all mining operations have excess rock and dirt that has to be placed somewhere. If you cannot have a fill, you can’t mine coal.”

The lawsuit mirrors one filed in West Virginia in 2002. U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin issued an injunction stopping the Corps from issuing the permits there in July; that case is under appeal.

Clean Water Act cited
Blanton said that in the last three years the Corps has rubber-stamped more than 50 permits for 191 valley fills that will destroy more than 35 miles of streams in Kentucky.

Blanton’s group, along with Kentucky Riverkeeper and Kentucky Waterways Alliance, claim in the lawsuit that the Corps is violating the Clean Water Act.

Dave Hewitt, spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, said his agency had no immediate comment.

Patsy Carter, a resident of Huntleyville in Martin County, said she is surrounded by mountaintop removal mining operations.

“I live with what the coal industry does to the land and the people every day,” she said. “You can cut a tree. It will grow back. You cut the top off a mountain and it’s gone forever.”

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