CHARLESTON, W.Va. — (AP) -- A federal appeals court Friday overturned a ruling requiring more extensive environmental reviews of mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining in Appalachia that blasts away whole peaks.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., ruled the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to issue Clean Water Act permits for mountaintop removal mines without more extensive reviews.
The decision tossed out a lower-court ruling that had blocked permits for four mountaintop-removal mines in West Virginia.
The appeals decision was 2-to-1. The dissenting judge said the majority opinion was wrong and that the Corps of Engineers had failed to fully assess the impact of the proposed mining.
The decision could have effects throughout the coalfields, including in Kentucky.
The ruling is a blow to environmentalists and coalfield residents who oppose the highly efficient but destructive practice that exposes thin, shallow coal seams. Rocks, dirt and other debris typically are dumped into valleys containing sections of streams, which is why clean water rules are involved.
The decision is a big win for mine operators. The coal industry says most of the nearly 130 million tons of coal produced at mountaintop mines in Appalachia goes to generate electricity for 24.7 million U.S. customers. Moreover, mountaintop mines employ some 14,000 people across West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Mountaintop permits have slowed to a trickle since March 2007, when the Corps was ordered by U.S. District Judge Chuck Chambers to rescind several permits. The appeals court overturned Chambers' ruling.
- Associated Press Story