WASHINGTON— In response to a lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, and other allies, the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement agreed today to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by October 16 to review the impacts of coal mining across the country on endangered species and ensure their survival is not being jeopardized.
Today’s critical legal agreement may help to secure new protections for species, from endangered crayfish in West Virginia to the Colorado pikeminnow.
“As Trump officials slash environmental protections, it’s a major victory that endangered wildlife will get new safeguards at coal mines across the country,” said Tierra Curry, a Center for Biological Diversity scientist. “Greater protections for endangered animals will also benefit human communities that are harmed by coal pollution every day.”
In May 2019 the Center, Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy challenged the federal agencies’ ongoing reliance on a biological opinion from 1996 that fails to ensure that mining does not jeopardize endangered species.
The 1996 opinion was invalidated by the Obama administration’s stream-protection rule, but when that rule was blocked by Congress, the old opinion was reinstated by the Trump administration. Today’s agreement requires a new national biological opinion.
“Protections for endangered wildlife should be based on sound science and not on industry demands,” said Ben Luckett, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates. “This new opinion should benefit people and animals that rely on clean air and water.”
The agencies must also adopt specific new guidance to prevent harm to the endangered Guyandotte River crayfish in West Virginia, which is on the brink of extinction due primarily to pollution from coal mining.
“It’s important to protect tiny critters like the Guyandotte River crayfish both for their own value within the ecosystems they support and because protecting crawdad habitat will also protect headwater streams and rivers that people rely on too,” said Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Numerous scientific studies have linked coal mining to declines in birds, fish, salamanders, crayfish, insects and freshwater mussels. Mining also threatens nearby communities with air and water pollution and an increased risk of flooding.
“Real protective measures for the wildlife and human communities of West Virginia are long overdue, and getting new rules for protecting endangered species are a big step in the right direction,” said Vivian Stockman, executive director of OVEC.
More than two dozen peer-reviewed scientific studies have now linked mining pollution in Appalachia to health problems, including increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and birth defects.
“For West Virginia to stay ‘wild and wonderful,’ as residents like to describe their state, we have to protect our animals from extinction, so it’s important that federal agencies actually do their job and take steps to make that happen,” said Jim Kotcon, conservation chair of the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.