"Specifically, the Hobet Mine permit was reduced from a 13-year operation to a 5-year project; two of the river valleys will not be filled at all and two other fills were substantially reduced in size; and any future work at the site will have to go through a new permit process with a complete environmental assessment and public involvement," McCabe wrote.
"This is a much better permit for nearby residents and for the environment than originally submitted and helps us move to the next stage of interim permit reforms," McCabe wrote.
A proposed permit revision filed Dec. 28 with the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation shows that Hobet Mining will reduce the total size of valley fills on the Spruce permit from 2,900 acres to 1,700 acres, a cut of about 40 percent.
The permit revision, however, also makes it clear that Hobet Mining plans to ask for the entire permit at some later date.
"This stage represents an interim configuration that would allow operations to be conducted in a restricted manner," the revision states. "Operations past stage one will depend on future authorizations by appropriate agencies."
John Ailes, chief of the DEP mining office, has not yet approved the permit revision. DEP has no plans, however, to allow additional public comment on the permit changes.
In its new lawsuit, the conservancy takes aim at the separate permit Hobet Mining needs from the Corps of Engineers.
The suit asks Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden to stop the corps from authorizing the Spruce mine under one of its general, nationwide permits.
The lawsuit alleges that the corps has never studied whether mountaintop removal mining causes minimal cumulative adverse environmental impacts or not.