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Environmental Groups Ask for Summary Judgment in Suit Over Coal Mining's Health Effects

Environmental groups have filed a new documentin a case against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over a surface mine in eastern Kentucky.Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and theSierra Club are fighting a permit the Army Corps granted to a coal company. They say the Corps is required to take potential health effects from a project into account before granting a permit…and in this case, the agency ignored studies that have been done over the past few years showing associations between health problems and mountaintop removal mining. The document filed this week asks the judge for summary judgment.KFTC member Doug Doerrfeld says the research has reached a critical mass, where coal companies shouldn’t be able to argue anymore that the mines don’t affect human health.“These are high-quality studies that have been peer-reviewed and published in major journals showing that there is a close correlation to how close you live to surface coal mines and a whole range of illnesses including cancers, kidney diseases, asthma, bronchitis and a whole number of others,” he said.The original lawsuit was filed in Octoberover a permit the Corps granted to Leeco, Inc. (a subsidiary of James River Coal). The permit allows Leeco to create a valley fill at the Stacy Branch mine on the border of Knott and Perry counties. A valley fill is created during mountaintop removal mining--the mountain is partially removed to reach coal seams, and then the dirt and rock (or “overburden”) is disposed of in valleys.This is one of the first times environmental groups have argued against a coal mine permit based on human health effects. Usually, the argument has been made that the practice negatively affects the environment and wildlife.“An argument can be made that what impacts the animals that live around us is going to indirectly affect us,” Doerrfeld said. “Well this is an argument that the impacts are directly impacting humans.”The groups are scheduled for a telephone conference with the judge on May 1.Read the original lawsuit.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.