Jul 19, 2012
This week, residents of the Coal River Valley filed an appeal in Kanawha County Circuit Court against the state Surface Mine Board's decision to approve the Collins Fork permit, a 250-acre strip mining permit on Coal River Mountain.
In a June 26, 2012 ruling, the Surface Mine Board had voted to approve the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's (WVDEP) decision to issue the permit, in spite of the fact that WVDEP waited three years to hold a public hearing on the permit. According to state law, a public hearing is required to be held within three weeks of the close of the public comment period.
“The Board finds it outrageous that WVDEP flagrantly violated the law by waiting more than three years after the initial comment period to hold an informal conference on the permit decision. It is clear from the testimony and admissions of counsel that WVDEP chose to violate the law by not holding the informal conference within the time frame outlined by statute,” the Board stated in its order. The Board nevertheless upheld the permit. A transcript of the hearing is available here (Part I and Part II).
Marfork Coal Company, a subsidiary of Alpha Natural Resources (formerly Massey Energy), applied for the Collins Fork permit in 2008, and WVDEP granted the permit in October, 2011. Citizens appealed the decision based on the WVDEP's failure to follow proper procedure in allowing public comment and also the WVDEP's failure to consider recent scientific evidence regarding the cumulative impacts of surface mining on the watershed. WVDEP justified its actions by saying a reduction in acreage of this permit benefited the citizens who commented on the permit; however, a major revision removing plans that Coal River Mountain Watch supported to reclaim a problematic slurry impoundment also occurred without a proper comment period.
Bo Webb, Rob Goodwin, Debbie Jarrell, and Amber Whittington, all members of Coal River Mountain Watch, originally appealed the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's decision to issue the permit in November 2011.
In this week's appeal to the Kanawha County Circuit Court, the appellants described their case as “an extreme example of how the citizens of the State of West Virginia have nothing more to rely upon in reigning in the DEP when they absolutely ignore the laws of the State.”