A.T. Massey Coal Co. is fighting back against increased federal government oversight of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.
Massey subsidiary Independence Coal Co. filed a federal court lawsuit last week to throw out a federal violation issued to one of its mines by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining.
Lawyers for Massey cited a 1996 court ruling, written by Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II, which severely limited OSM's ability to cite coal companies for environmental problems.
Haden is also hearing what could become a landmark case in which environmental groups want to curb mountaintop removal mining's environmental impacts.
In the Massey case, OSM stepped in when federal officials felt the state Division of Environmental Protection didn't properly enforce regulations at a Massey operation in Boone County.
According to court papers, Massey in 1997 had widened County Route 79/1 near Jacks Branch so its coal trucks could maneuver more easily.
The company, however, used waste rock and earth that it removed from a mountaintop to build the widened road, the court papers said.
DEP inspectors issued an order that Massey stop the project because the company's surface mining permit did not have a provision allowing the company to dispose of mine waste on the road.
At some point, DEP withdrew its order.
The company argued it had Division of Highways approval for the project.
Massey also argued that the road expansion "actually diminished the impact of truck operations in the area by allowing trucks to egress County Route 79/1 more quickly and without the use of their jake brakes."