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Lawsuits target health impacts of mountaintop removal mining

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Two new lawsuits filed in West Virginia and Kentucky allege the Obama administration is ignoring a growing body of science that links living near mountaintop removal operations to greater risk of serious health impacts, including cancer and birth defects.

Lawyers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and other groups filed the lawsuits in federal court in Huntington and in Louisville, Ky., to challenge Clean Water Act permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The lawsuits target corps-issued permits for Raven Crest Contracting's Boone North No. 5 Surface Mine near Peytona in Boone County and for Leeco Inc.'s Stacy Branch operation along the Knott-Perry County line in Eastern Kentucky.

Corps officials, the lawsuits allege, "did not include any human health analysis" when they approved the permits, ignoring citizen-group comments pointing out a series of studies on the issue.

Brian Maka, a spokesman for the corps, refused to comment on the litigation.

The lawsuits mark a renewed effort by citizen groups to force regulatory agencies to examine mountaintop removal not only as an environmental issue but as a potential threat to public health.

West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx and others have co-authored more than 20 studies that have found generally higher rates of health problems, and specifically rates of cancer and birth defects, among residents living near mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.

In a previous case over an Alpha Natural Resources permit in Logan County, U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers refused to allow citizen groups to present testimony about the public-health studies on mountaintop removal.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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