Court upholds Highland Reylas permit

A US district judge has rejected a challenge filed by environmentalists last October against a permit for the Highland Reylas surface mine in southern West Virginia.
Court upholds Highland Reylas permit Court upholds Highland Reylas permit Court upholds Highland Reylas permit Court upholds Highland Reylas permit Court upholds Highland Reylas permit


Donna Schmidt

According to order documentation obtained by ILN, Huntington US District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia Judge Robert Chambers ruled in favor of the US Army Corps of Engineers and owner Alpha Natural Resources in a case filed by the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and others.

The groups had challenged the permit with the argument that its reviewers did not take proper consideration of scientific evidence.

Highland Reylas, one of the operations Alpha obtained in its June 2011 takeover of Massey Energy, could bury about 2.5 miles of streams.

"Miles of West Virginia streams are being buried under valley fills covering hundreds of acres, dramatically altering the landscape and streams throughout southern West Virginia," Chambers said in the filing.

"The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] and the WVDEP [West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection] have been at loggerheads in evaluating these impacts and taking action to strike the balance between the state's economic interests in mining and its obligation to protect West Virginia's environment.”

Chambers also said in his order that the Army Corps’ decision to issue the Clean Water Act 404 permit to the mining company for valley fill and sediment pond construction was “not arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law”

The agency, he added, provided a reasonable basis for its conclusion that Highland Reylas would not violate water quality standards or have significant impact to humans.

The permit applications for the complex were first submitted by former owner Massey in September 2007. In that proposal, fill material was to go into a portion of the Bandmill Hollow Creek.

The USAC was prepared to approve the environmental permit following a March 2009 review but the EPA submitted an objection prior to its issuance under similar reasoning.

Some of the agency’s permit conditions were subsequently added to the mine’s permit proposal by the Army Corps before passage in March 2011.

The environmentalists’ challenge was filed soon after.

Alpha has not issued any public statements on the suit.

According to the initial permit details, Highland Reylas was designed to produce about 1 million clean tons of coal annually and directly employ more than 100 workers for about six years.

Once operations are completed, the permit said Highland planned to utilize the reclaimed area for a 235-acre housing site that would be available for local residents in times of emergency, such as a flood.

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