Group claims Jim Justice mine endangers crawdads and bats
By Joel Ebert, Capitol Bureau
A wildlife conservation organization is wagging its finger at West Virginia gubernatorial candidate, billionaire and basketball coach Jim Justice, invoking the Endangered Species Act.
The Center for Biological Diversity sent an 8-page letter to the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday calling attention to the agencies’ obligation to protect two endangered species of crayfish and bats from a coal mine in McDowell County owned by Justice.
The Justice Low Seam Mining Big Creek Surface Mine, which is located within half a mile from the Endwell Headstart Preschool in Squire, W.Va., will destroy more than five miles of streams and 907 acres of hardwood forest, according to the group.
The wildlife group is calling attention to the fact that an environmental analysis has not considered the damage to the endangered species.
“Protecting endangered species like the bat and the crawdad from this coal mine will also help protect the health and property of the people who live downstream from it,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the organization.
The letter asks the two government agencies to “undertake further environmental review and analysis before allowing this mining project to move forward.”
The group notes the requirement for an analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued a protection of the northern long-eared bat in April, in order to ensure the safety of both animals.
The Center for Biological Diversity petitioned for the protection of the crayfish in 2010 and the federal wildlife agency proposed to protect it last month.
The Endangered Species Act makes it illegal to harm protected species or their habitat.
In their letter, the wildlife group alleges the application materials for the mine do not adequately address fish and wildlife and related environmental issues.
“The documents submitted with the application in no way meet these requirements,” it says. “The response provided on how the mine will avoid and minimize adverse impacts is a single generic paragraph that includes no specific measures to safeguard water quality, the Big Sandy crayfish, or the capability of Jacobs Fork to continue to support trout.”
In addition to the environmental and wildlife concerns, the group takes aim at Justice, citing the 250 environmental violations he has in five states among his various mines, unpaid penalties totaling roughly $2 million for violations that include wastewater releases, discharges of toxic selenium, failure to file pollution dumping records and failure to report water-quality data.
The group also cites last year’s National Public Radio and Mine Safety and Health News investigation, which found Justice owed $1.5 million in overdue fines and nearly 4,000 violations.
“Jim Justice’s Big Creek mine permit exemplifies the need to shine a bright light on mining practices in Appalachia,” said Curry. “Despite the applicant’s pattern of violations and the fact that the permit documents are expired, inadequate and inconsistent, this permit was rubber stamped. The environmental laws that apply in the rest of the country need to start applying in West Virginia.”
In a statement released on Thursday, the group noted that pollution from coal mining in Appalachia threatens communities with pollution and risk of flooding, as well as health problems, and has been linked to declines in downstream fish and insects.
The Justice Low Seam Mining Big Creek Surface Mine was issued a surface permit on April 15.
This article originally appeared here.