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1,000 Alabama coal jobs hang in the balance as federal judge weighs enviros’ request

Coal Miners

The Alabama Coal Association expects 1,000 Alabama coal industry workers to be laid off if a judge sides with two environmental groups seeking to halt mining permits in north Alabama.

In late November of 2013, the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Black Warrior Riverkeeper and Defenders of Wildlife, two Alabama-based environmental groups. The suit asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make changes to its permitting process and to further consider the environmental impacts of coal mining in the area, which they say is causing irreparable damage to streams and wetlands.

Late last week, U.S. District Court Judge William M. Acker Jr. intervened in the lawsuit and scheduled a hearing for Jan. 30 to decide whether he will grant the environmental groups’ request for a preliminary injunction.

“[T]he requested injunction would significantly interrupt ongoing mining projects, potentially depriving the economy of a vital source of income for thousands of families and of a critical energy source for the region and the nation,” the Army Corp of Engineers said in response to the suit.

But the environmental groups were not swayed.

“It is possible to balance protections for clean water and natural resources with economic opportunities, but this process has failed to do so,” Catherine Wannamaker of the SELC said.

The suit is just the latest in a growing number of cases in which Alabama environmental groups are stepping up their efforts around the state.

Financial disclosures from the San Francisco-based Energy Foundation revealed in December that millions of dollars have been funneled to Alabama enviro groups to advance their goal of shutting down coal-fired plants. U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby went on to ask Dept. of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to investigate whether the groups had inappropriately used taxpayer money to advance their ideological goals.

Email records obtained through open records requests then revealed that government employees working for the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham shared privileged information with the Southern Environmental Law Center in an attempt to aid their efforts to halt progress on The Northern Beltline.

Follow Cliff on Twitter @Cliff_Sims

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