Greens Say Army Corps Permit Endangers Alabama Watershed

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (CN) – Two non-profit agencies claim in court that a fill permit issued to a new mine by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will have a devastating impact on numerous endangered species and critical habitat in the Black Warrior River watershed.

In a lawsuit filed in the federal court in Birmingham on Monday, the Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc. and Defenders of Wildlife claim the permit the Corps to issued to Black Warrior Minerals Inc. was bestowed based on insufficient environmental analysis and without appropriate mitigation requirements.

According to the lawsuit, between 2008 – 2010, the Corps. authorized the “destruction” of at least 45 miles of streams and wetlands through permits issued to coal mining operations.

The permit at issue in the lawsuit allows Black Warrior Minerals Inc. to fill approximately 2. 5 miles of streams and some wetlands in an area that includes 26 species of endangered fish, mussels, snails and bats.

The plaintiffs say that Alabama ranks first in the nation in freshwater species biodiversity, but the state also has more species than any other at risk of extinction because of water pollution.

There are over 95 active coal mines in the Black Warrior River watershed and according to the lawsuit, coal mining is the biggest threat to water quality in the region.

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of any pollutant, including dredged or fill material, into navigable waters unless authorized by a permit, and the Corps must provide public notice to allow the public to comment on the environmental impacts of the permits, the lawsuit says.

The plaintiffs claim that when defendants issued a public notice regarding the permit, plaintiffs objected because the issuance of the permit would violate the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. However, defendants went ahead and issued the permit without addressing plaintiff’s concerns. Plaintiffs then filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act to determine the rationale for the decision.

The lawsuit claims defendants did not include a required mitigation plan or revisions from the applicant in the public notice and they did not provide this information to plaintiffs following a request. The mitigation plan was not finalized by the applicant and accepted by defendants until six months after the public notice.

The plaintiffs say the Corps did not consider the cumulative effects of sediment and other pollutants from all currently active, reclaimed and abandoned coal mines in the vicinity of the new facility. In fact, defendants concluded that the new mine would “not result in significant cumulative impacts to the human and/or aquatic environment” and that water quality impacts would be “minimal.”

In addition, the Corps did not take into consideration that the new mine was an extension of an existing mine that had “extensive negative impacts” on water quality in the area, the complaint continues.

The plaintiffs say the Corps’ determination that the discharge will not “cause or contribute to significant degradation” of the waters of the United States is arbitrary and capricious and in violation of the Clean Water Act.

They seek a declaration that the permit was unlawfully issued and they seek an injunction suspending all activities authorized under the permit.

The plaintiffs are represented by Eva Dillard of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc. in Birmingham, Ala.

A representative of the Corps could not immediately be reached for comment.

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