Federal judge blocks West Virginia coal-mining permits

Foes of mountaintop-removal mining got a break late Friday when a federal judge blocked four permits for mines in West Virginia. The permits, issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, had said it was A-OK for Massey Energy’s subsidiaries to fill valleys with the dirt and other detritus left over from shearing off mountaintops to get at coal seams. But U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers said the Corps had not fully weighed the effects of such dumping on headwater streams — 1,200 miles of which were damaged by the practice between 1985 and 2001 — and sent the permits back for further consideration. He also instructed the Corps to stand in a corner and think about what it had done, and said any broccoli left on its plate tonight would still be there at breakfast. Anti-mining advocates like Joe Lovett hoped the verdict marked a shift: “It’s clear that the Corps has been permitting the destruction of southern West Virginia without complying with the most fundamental federal environmental laws.”