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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Judge Pushes Forward Suit Over Mining Permits

(CN) - A dispute between the National Mining Association and the Environmental Protection Agency over permits granted under the Clean Water Act can head to trial, a federal judge for the District of Columbia court ruled.

The parties had moved for an injunction and dismissal, respectively, but U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton found that none of the parties "have made a sufficiently compelling case to tip the scales in their favor."

The trade organization sued the EPA, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and three federal officials in July 2010, claiming that EPA and the Corps had illegally obstructed permitting processes for coal mining in the Appalachian region under the Clean Water Act.

NMA contends that EPA used its Enhanced Coordination Process Memoranda and the Detailed Guidance Memorandum, issued in June 2009 and April 2010, respectively, to cause indefinite delays in the permitting process and create regionwide standards for water quality, which are set by individual states.

EPA and the Corps filed a motion to dismiss NMA's lawsuit, but the court ruled against the motion, noting that the group's complaint was ripe for review and could not be evaluated through the factual background alone.

The court concluded, however, that the association has standing and that the challenged EPA actions were not simply interim documents as represented.

In declining to act on the NMA's demand for an injunction, Walton wrote that the association did not prove that it would suffer irreparable injury without the court's intervention, even if the EPA acted beyond its authority.

NMA's claim for irreparable injury was based on three factors: damage to small business coal mines by permitting delays, substantial economic losses and interference with private property rights.

The association cited Randy Johnson, president of Best Coal, as its sole example of small-business damage, but the ruling states that it failed to offer a projection of future economic losses or a specific explanation behind Johnson claim that his company would go out of business in 18 months.

Even if the economic losses would be unrecoverable, Walton found that NMA did not prove that the losses were certain and imminent.

The court also agreed with EPA that NMA's claim of private property interference was "baseless."

Walton briefly examined the factors of possible harm to other interested parties and public interest when evaluating the motions, but did not draw conclusions in favor of either party.

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