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Mountaintop Mining and U.S. EPA's Proposed Rule Change: A Giant Step Backward for the Clean Water Act

December 2000

Citation: ELR 11175

Author: Daniel L. Rosenberg

Imagine that new neighbors move in next door and begin building an addition on their home that blocks the sun, crowds your property, and obstructs you view of the park down the street. Unpleasant? Now imagine that the rights to mine the property next door—more than 8,000 acres (approximately 12 square miles)—is bought by the Arch Coal Company and that your new neighbor will soon be blasting off the tops of the surrounding mountains, cutting trees, burying the nearby streams with rubble, and killing all the wildlife in the process. Many of your neighbors might quickly move away, particularly if offered some financial compensation by the coal company. Soon, the local stores would not have enough business to stay open, and your little town might not have enough revenue to support basic social services, or enough children to keep the local school open. An ever-descending spiral of flight and deterioration would soon be established. But if you and your family wanted to fight to save your home, your community, and the surrounding streams, trees, and wildlife, you might take your new neighbor to court.

Ten West Virginia citizens did just that two years ago. They joined with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, a local environmental group, to file a legal complaint in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia. The complaint, brought against the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleged multiple violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA)1 and the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA)2 for failure to prevent or enforce violations caused by a mining practice known as "mountaintop removal." Thus far, they have won nearly every round of their battle.

Daniel L. Rosenberg is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council's Clean Water Project in Washington, D.C.

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