Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 21, 2018

Contact: Tierra Curry, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 522-3681,

Trump Administration Sued Over Records of Coal Mining Threats to West Virginia's Endangered Species

CHARLESTON, W.Va.— The Center for Biological Diversity and Appalachian Mountain Advocates sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today for refusing to release public records concerning coal mining and endangered species in West Virginia.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia, demands records related to Endangered Species Act compliance for mines that could harm the Big Sandy crayfish and Guyandotte River crayfish. The suit comes after the Service failed to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests by the required deadlines.

“The Trump administration’s secrecy could be covering up damage to endangered species and water quality, and in turn, human health in Appalachia,” said Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center. “The public has a right to know what harm is being done to our waters and wildlife.”

In early August 2017 the U.S. Department of the Interior issued a press release claiming it had streamlined the Endangered Species Act permitting process for the Berwind Mine in McDowell County in relation to the endangered crayfish, but it did not provide any details.

The Center, which petitioned for protection for the crayfish in 2010, then filed two Freedom of Information Act requests seeking the records for the Berwind Mine and other mines being permitted in the habitat of the endangered species. Seven months have passed, and the agency has yet to provide any records.

The Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfish were protected under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 because of habitat loss and water pollution. The Guyandotte River crayfish has undergone a 90 percent range reduction and is now found only in Wyoming County and nowhere else on Earth. The Big Sandy crayfish survives in West Virginia, Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

One of the primary threats to the crayfish is mountaintop-removal coal mining. Recent scientific studies have concluded that pollution from mountaintop removal is harmful to fish, crayfish, mussels, amphibians and stream insects in Appalachia.

Pollution from mountaintop removal is also associated with increased risk of cancer, birth defects and multiple other health problems in humans. More than 2,000 miles of streams in Appalachia have been degraded by this mechanized form of mining, which employs far fewer people than other forms and perpetuates poverty by causing permanent and irreversible damage to the landscape.

Crayfish are also known as crawdads, crawfish, mudbugs and freshwater lobsters. They’re considered a keystone animal because the holes they dig create habitat used by many other species, including fish, amphibians and insects.

Crayfish keep streams cleaner by eating decaying plants and animals and are eaten, in turn, by fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, making them an important link in the food web. Because the Big Sandy and Guyandotte River crayfishes are sensitive to water pollution, they are indicator species of water quality.

Big Sandy crayfish

Big Sandy crayfish photo by Guenter Schuster. This image is available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Appalachian Mountain Advocates is a non-profit public interest law and policy center dedicated to fighting for clean water and a clean energy future.

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