In the U.S.
Judge blocks mountaintop mine permits
Miners would have been able to fill valleys with mined ore
Updated: 8:09 a.m. MT March 26, 2007
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – A federal judge ruled Friday that the Army Corps of Engineers illegally issued permits for four mountaintop removal mines without adequately determining whether the environment would be harmed.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and two other environmental groups had sued to force the corps to perform more extensive environmental reviews before granting valley fill permits for the mines.
The corps had maintained that more extensive reviews weren’t necessary for the permits.
Chambers remanded the permits to the corps for further consideration.
Messages left after hours for the corps and for Richmond, Va.-based Massey were not immediately returned.
The issue of mountaintop removal and valley fills has been argued in state and federal courts in the region for nearly a decade. Coal operators claim the practice is an efficient way to expose seams in mountainous coalfields.
Environmentalists call the technique destructive and point to a 2005 study that said mountaintop removal and valley fills had buried 1,200 miles of headwater streams in Appalachia.
The corps had argued that mitigation techniques, including restoring streams, would offset any harmful effects. Chambers, however, said the agency failed to assess the full impact of destroying headwater streams within a watershed.
“The evidence to date shows that the Corps has no scientific basis no real evidence of any kind upon which it bases its decisions to permit this permanent destruction to streams and headwaters,” said Steve Roady, a lawyer with Washington-based Earthjustice, which represented the environmental groups.
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he had not read the ruling and had no immediate comment. The association had intervened in the lawsuit.
After more than a year of intense pressure, on March 21 President Chavez issued a Presidential Decree that no new coal mines will be built in the Sierra de Perija, and no expansion will be permitted in existing coal mines. “By saying today ‘Not one more mine in Zulia state,’ president Hugo Chavez brings back hope for the future of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra de Perija and for life itself,” said the Wayuu and Yukpa communities in a press release.
The Sierra de Perija along Venezuela’s northwestern border is home to Wayuu, Yukpa and Bari indigenous peoples who have vigorously protested explorations in their territories by multinational coal companies. The indigenous communities rejected collective land titles offered by the Chavez administration because the titles excluded the sites of new mines slated for development this year.
Below is an unofficial translation of a press release issued by Homo et Natura and the Wayuu and Yukpa communities:
By Presidential Decree, the Environmental Minister Prohibits New Coal Mines in Zulia State
Caracas, March 21, 2007. By presidential decree, the Environmental Minister Yubiri Ortega de Carrizalez announced yesterday to the Yukpa and Wayuu indigenous peoples of the Sierra de Perija that opening new coal mines in the state of Zulia is prohibited, as well as the expansion of the existing Guasare and Paso Diablo mines.
Yesterday, indigenous people from Perija and the social and environmental movements that were protesting against the coal mines at the Ministry felt that we had buried in Caracas the ghost of coal and its threats against the indigenous peoples of Zulia state. However, until the mining concessions are canceled by decree, we will continue this struggle.
“We are very hopeful,” said the Environmental Minister to the Yukpa and Wayuu leaders, Homo et Natura and the alternative media, “because the president has ordered a new model of development for the region encompassing ecology, agriculture, tourism and sustainable development.”
We know that the powerful multinational mining interests in Zulia will keep trying to keep their mega-coal project alive, whatever the cost. Questions remail about the future of the Nigales Bridge, Bolivar Port and the Zulia railroads, all of which were designed to carry coal….
If coal mines — which represent the grief of thousands of families that have lost their children and husbands, suffered poverty and contamination of their soil, air and water, lost their forests, rivers, vegetation – are stopped forever,
If the Venezuelan state decrees finally that mines will be defeated and replaced by agriculture, sustainable grazing, in favor of life, we will find the eyes of the world seeing an exemplary act of social justice and the beginning of necessary change.
Coal mines already destroyed whole communities in Mara, destroyed the forests and rivers in their way, left the Bari indigenous people without lands, and brought indigenous leaders to their knees for decades, making their own people feel ashamed of them. By saying today “Not one more mine in Zulia state,” president Hugo Chavez brings back hope for the future of the indigenous peoples of the Sierra de Perija and for life itself. Now we await the decree that will defeat forever this black curse….”