CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – The Army Corps of Engineers bypassed the federal Clean Water Act when it used a less stringent permitting process to approve valley fills in mountaintop mining projects in southern West Virginia, a federal judge ruled.

Judge Joseph R. Goodwin on Thursday ordered the corps to revoke 11 permits where mining in the state had not yet started.

Goodwin said the corps should have used a permitting process that requires a detailed environmental analysis when considering applications – a process that lives up to the intent of the federal Clean Water Act.

Instead, he said, the corps used a permitting process known as Nationwide Permit 21, which requires no such environmental analysis.

Enacted in 1972, the Clean Water Act set up minimum technology and water quality standards for industries requesting permits.

The ruling “forces them to comply with the law, which is something the Bush administration has refused to do,” said Joe Lovett, an attorney for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which filed the lawsuit. “It forces them to confront the science … that shows the impact of this devastating mining on southern West Virginia.”

Officials with the U.S. Department of Justice and the corps’ Huntington District office said Friday they were still reviewing the ruling and had no comment.

A valley fill is created when excess rock and dirt from a mining operation is pushed over the mountainside, often burying stream beds below. The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition had previously said the practice has resulted in the destruction of more than 1,000 miles of stream beds in West Virginia alone.

Mine operators contend that valley fills are an essential part of surface mine operations, which must contend with large quantities of waste. Corps lawyers say plans such as diverting streams or rebuilding them in man-made drainage ditches make up for any damage.

AP-ES-07-09-04 1131EDT

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