HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Mine operator Loadout LLC agreed Thursday to hold off mining its proposed Nellis Surface Mine in Boone County until a federal judge can schedule a more detailed hearing on a citizen group challenge to the mine's Clean Water Act permit.Loadout lawyer Ed Tiffey said the company would delay operations at the site until U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers can hold a preliminary-injunction hearing on May 18.Also Thursday, Chambers did not rule on requests from the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Alpha Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for legal rulings related to a court challenge of a permit for Alpha's Highland Reylas Mine in Logan County.The judge said he hopes to issue summary judgment rulings, which should narrow unresolved issues in the case prior to a trial scheduled to start in two weeks.
The separate legal challenges pending before Chambers are part of the ongoing courtroom maneuvering over mountaintop-removal coal mining and its impacts on the environment, the economy and public health in Southern West Virginia.
Coal industry officials favor mountaintop removal for its efficiency, and most coalfield political leaders support the practice. However, federal regulators and citizen groups point to a growing body of scientific evidence that shows mountaintop removal causes serious damage to Appalachian forests and streams, and to newer research that strongly suggests a link between mountaintop removal and adverse health effects.While the Obama administration's crackdown on mountaintop removal slowed the issuance of new strip-mining permits across Appalachia, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has not stepped in to block all "dredge-and-fill" Clean Water Act authorizations from the Corps of Engineers.Environmentalists already were suing the corps over its approval of Alpha's 235-acre Reylas Surface Mine, near Ethel, in Logan County.On Wednesday, citizen groups asked Chambers to hear their motion for a temporary restraining order to block the permit the corps issued for Loadout's Nellis Surface Mine. Loadout is a unit of Penn Virginia Resources.The groups say the corps violated a previous court order by not re-evaluating the entire Loadout permit and not responding to public comments on the mine's mitigation plan.Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1702.