Large land-holding companies should not be allowed to fight a lawsuit which seeks to curb mountaintop removal strip mining, lawyers for environmentalists say.
Environmental lawyer Joe Lovett says the land companies do not have direct interest in the outcome of the case and therefore should not be allowed to intervene.
"Environmental enforcement suits often have social and economic repercussions," Lovett wrote. "But this does not mean they should be transformed into a forum for all affected parties to raise their objections."
Mountaintop removal blasts off hilltops to reach coal seams under them. Leftover rock and earth is dumped into nearby streams and valleys.
In mid-July, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and a group of coalfield residents filed suit in U.S. District Court in Charleston to try to rein in giant mountaintop removal mines.
The suit alleges, among other things, that the state Division of Environmental Protection has permitted mountaintop removal mines in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the Surface Mining Reclamation and Control Act.
Named as defendants in the suit were the DEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Charles Haden agreed to delay until Dec. 10 a hearing on a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the issuance of new mountaintop removal permits. The hearing was originally scheduled for Nov. 12.
Haden has already allowed three Arch Coal Inc. subsidiaries and two coal-industry trade associations to intervene in the case.
In late September, Western Pocahontas Properties and the National Association of Coal Lessors asked Haden to let them intervene as well.