President Bush’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court helped the coal industry overturn a 1999 federal court ruling that limited mountaintop removal coal mining.John G. Roberts Jr. was among the lawyers who represented the National Mining Association in the landmark case, called Bragg v. Robertson.Roberts was not the group’s primary lawyer and it was the only case in which he represented the organization, said association spokeswoman Carol Raulston.“I’m not sure we even met him,” Raulston said. “There’s just not a lot of basis for us to comment.”Roberts was one of three lawyers at the firm Hogan & Hartson who filed a “friend of the court” brief in an appeal before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.In that case, the now-late U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II had ruled that a buffer zone rule prohibited coal companies from burying larger streams with strip mine waste.The National Mining Association was not a party to the case, which was filed against the state Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.DEP, the Clinton administration, the West Virginia Coal Association and Hobet Mining Inc. appealed Haden’s decision.
The Bush administration continued the appeal, and later challenged a second ruling by Haden and a more recent decision by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin to more strictly regulate mountaintop removal.Eventually, the 4th Circuit overturned Haden on jurisdictional grounds. In its April 2001 decision, the appeals court said the dispute belonged in state court, not in front of a federal judge.One of the judges who overturned Haden was Judge J. Michael Luttig, who was considered by Bush for the open Supreme Court seat and, according to national media reports, is a close friend of Roberts.Roberts’ involvement in the mountaintop removal case was noted Wednesday morning in an article in The Washington Post.In the mining case, Haden had concluded that a stream buffer zone rule, which prohibited mining within 100 feet of waters, blocked valley fills in larger perennial and intermittent streams. Fills were only allowed in smaller, ephemeral streams, the judge ruled.In its legal brief, the National Mining Association said Haden’s ruling “jeopardizes the continued viability of the coal industry in Appalachia and elsewhere.”The brief also said that, by hearing the case in the first place, Haden allowed citizens to “circumvent” an administrative process that allows appeals of permit decisions to the state Surface Mine Board.
“Such a result eviscerates the very process Congress established to coordinate the various regulatory programs applicable to coal mining, and creates grave uncertainty for the members of the coal industry who rely upon mining permits as the blueprint for compliance with these programs.”