On May 10, environmental groups issued a formal notice of intent to sue the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of West Virginia for violations of the federal Endangered Species Act. At press time, no action had occurred.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the conservation group leading the lawsuit, records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act reveal West Virginia officials appealed to the Trump administration to weaken protections for the endangered Guyandotte River and Big Sandy crayfish. The officials claimed regulations to protect the species were harming the coal industry.
Interference from a high-level U.S. Department of Interior official led to West Virginia issuing mining permits in crayfish habitat, thus allowing the risk of mine sediment and pollution in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
At the time, the Fish and Wildlife Service was still developing its own guidance to protect the crayfish. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, “the public records reveal extensive efforts by Trump administration appointees to prevent the Fish and Wildlife Service from following science and doing what is needed to protect the crayfish.”
The center was joined on the May 2019 action by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the Sierra Club’s West Virginia Chapter and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. — By Hannah McAlister