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A federal appeals court has issued a decision that will make it easier for coal companies to use mountaintop removal mining methods. The court in Richmond, Virginia, voted 2-1 to overturn a district judge’s 2007 decision that would require a more thorough mine permit review of mountaintop projects. It was a “victory for the coal industry,” according to Ken Ward of The Charleston (WV) Gazette. Environmental groups have been fighting mountaintop removal mines for years.
Companies using this mining technique remove the tops of mountains to reach the seams of coal underneath. (See photo above.) They take the rock and soil from the top of the mountains and place it in the valley below, often covering streams. The district judge had ruled earlier that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not property consider environmental impacts before issuing a federal permit to a mountaintop removal mine. The appeals court ruled, however, that this regulation was best left to state agencies.
Coal Tattoo has good, ongoing coverage of the decision, which is big news in the southern Appalachian mountains. Ken Ward writes that “what environmental groups — and the coal industry, for that matter — are really waiting for now is to what, if anything, President Barack Obama decided to do about mountaintop removal.” In August 2007, Obama said in Kentucky that the country was “tearing up the Appalachian mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels.”