Environmental advocates threaten lawsuit to protect imperiled Kentucky crayfish
Hundreds of coal mining facilities spanning three Appalachian states lack the required plans to protect threatened and endangered crayfish from mining pollution. Now environmental advocates have filed formal notice they intend to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement for failure to protect the species.
The big sandy crayfish is a freshwater crustacean that burrows under loose cobbles and boulders along stream bottoms spanning three Appalachian states including Kentucky.
Both the Big Sandy crayfish and its relative the Guyandotte River crayfish in West Virginia are canaries in the coal mines for stream health, but officials with the Center for Biological Diversity and Appalachian Voices say state and federal authorities have done little to protect the species in the wake of a 2020 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion.
“Nobody, and I mean nobody, is doing their job to guard against extinction here, and the process to protect wildlife from coal mining is just being ignored,” said Perrin de Jong, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The states and the feds are blowing past the law’s clear command to protect these rare crayfish and their homes in Appalachian mountain streams.”
The effects of coal mining, abandoned mine lands, logging and development first led U.S. Fish and Wildlife to list the Big Sandy crayfish as threatened and the Guyandotte River crayfish as endangered in 2016. Today, the Big Sandy crayfish has lost more than 60% of its range while the Guyandotte River crayfish has been wiped from most of its range and now lives in only two creeks in West Virginia, according to a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
In 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity defeated a previous biological opinion from U.S. Fish and Wildlife that said coal mining companies did not have to worry about protections for endangered species, De Jong said. The 2020 biological opinion requires federal authorities in the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to oversee states and ensure protections are in place for these and other threatened and endangered species, according to the release.
But now, three years later, the Center for Biological Diversity says there isn’t a single mining facility in Kentucky that has provided authorities with protection and enhancement plans for the Big Sandy crayfish. Meanwhile the plan compliance rate to protect these species in West Virginia stands at just 3% in West Virginia and 25% in Virginia.
In total, the Center for Biological Diversity and Appalachian Voices reported 388 coal mining facilities in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia are lacking the required plans to protect the species from mining pollution.
The Center for Biological Diversity says the lack of plans demonstrate not only the states’ failures to protect these species but also that of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which has not enforced species protection requirements.
So on Thursday the Center for Biological Diversity and Appalachian Voices announced its notice of an intent to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Fish and Wildlife Service for failure to protect the imperiled crayfish from coal mining pollution.
De Jong gave federal authorities 60 days to come up with a schedule to bring the mines into compliance before filing a lawsuit.
Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet Spokesperson John Mura said the cabinet is aware of the notice and is reviewing it.
Last year, the same attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity successfully persuaded the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to suspend a key permit for a proposed Bullitt County gas pipeline to look for critical habitat for bats protected under the Endangered Species Act.