Large landholding companies can have their say in a suit over mountaintop removal coal mining after all, a federal judge ruled on Wednesday.Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden said he would allow Western Pocahontas Properties Limited Partnership and the National Council of Coal Lessors, a trade organization, to intervene in the suit.The ruling, in a seven-page order, reversed a decision Haden made in mid-October to not allow the land company and the trade group to join as defendants in the case.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.In his previous ruling, Haden said that the interests of the land companies could be adequately represented by three Arch Coal Inc. subsidiaries and two coal industry trade groups that he allowed to intervene. Some large land companies are members of one of the trade groups.In his Wednesday ruling, Haden said that the land companies had asserted a different defense against the lawsuit's efforts to curb mountaintop removal.The trade groups alleged in their court motions that any additional regulation of mountaintop removal would amount to a "taking" of their property by the federal government. A taking is a government action that prohibits someone from using their property as the person sees fit. Often, government agencies have to compensate persons for those losses of property uses. To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.