Land firms can't join mountaintop mine suit

Large land-holding companies cannot intervene in a lawsuit filed by environmentalists who want to curb mountaintop removal coal mining, a federal judge has ruled.U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II refused to allow Western Pocahontas Properties Limited Partnership and the National Council of Coal Lessors to join the case as defendants.Haden sided with lawyers for several environmental groups, who argued that various coal companies and coal industry trade associations can adequately represent the land owners' interests in the case.In a four-page ruling filed on Friday, Haden noted that many land companies are members of the trade associations, including the West Virginia Coal Association, which has already intervened in the case."The Associations will represent the interests of mineral rights' owners or lessors because they have members who own or lease mineral rights and land for coal mining," Haden wrote."In fact, Western Pocahontas is an associate member of the West Virginia Coal Association," he wrote. "Moreover, there are other members of the Associations who own or lease mineral rights and land for coal mining."
Mountaintop removal mining blasts off entire hilltops to reach valuable coal seams underneath. Leftover rock and earth is dumped into valleys and streams in waste piles called valley fills.In mid-July, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and 10 coalfield residents filed a suit in federal court in an effort to curb mountaintop removal. Named as defendants are the state Division of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.Among other things, the suit alleges DEP and the Corps have illegally issued mountaintop removal permits that violate the 1977 federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act and the federal Clean Water Act.Three Arch Coal Inc. subsidiaries, the West Virginia Coal Association and the West Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association have intervened in the lawsuit as defendants. 
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.
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