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Greens Sue to Block Alabama Coal Mine

(CN) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers unlawfully approved an Alabama coal mining permit that could negatively impact the habitat of nine threatened or endangered species, environmental groups claim in court.

Black Warrior Riverkeeper Inc., an Alabama nonprofit, and Defenders of Wildlife, a national conservation organization, sued the Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Birmingham Federal Court.

The Oct. 27 lawsuit claims the agencies violated the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act by approving a permit application without the appropriate environmental analysis.

The Clean Water Act Section 404 permit authorizes its applicant, Global Met Coal Corporation, to "fill 9,760 linear feet (~ 2 miles) of streams and nearly an acre of important wetlands in the Black Warrior River watershed in connection with surface coal mining operations."

According to the plaintiffs, the new Black Creek Mine, is "located in an ecologically sensitive area" that's home to several "sensitive and rare species."

The project area includes the Cahaba shiner, the flattened musk turtle, the Alabama moccasinshell, the dark pigtoe, the orange-nacre mucket, the plicate rocksnail, the triangular kidneyshell, the ovate clubshell and the upland combshell, which are all either threatened or endangered species. Adjacent to the project area is located critical habitat for six of those species.

"For some of these species, the waters near this mine are their only remaining habitat in the world," the lawsuit claims. "All of these species are known to be negatively affected by the impacts of surface coal mining, yet the Corps arbitrarily found that this project would have 'no effect' on them."

One of those species, the plicate rocksnail, is considered "critically endangered," the suit states.

In terms of specific claims, the plaintiffs contend that the Corps failed to "initiate or complete formal or informal consultation" with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before issuing its decision.

"Because this project 'may affect' listed species and designated critical habitats, the Corps has violated Section 7(a)(2) of the ESA and its implementing regulations by failing to initiate and complete consultation with the Service," the lawsuit states.

The Corps also violated the CWA by failing to include sufficient details concerning the applicant's mitigation plans in the public notice.

From the complaint: "The only details about the proposed compensatory mitigation in the Corps' public notice of the Black Creek Mine Section 404 permit application concerned the amount, type and location of the proposed mitigation."

Plaintiffs are asking the court to vacate the permit and "to order the permit holder to suspend all activities authorized under the permit."

E. Patrick Robbins, chief of legislative and public affairs for the Corps' Mobile, Ala. district office, said the agency does not comment on active litigation.

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