Lawyers for environmentalists and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked a federal judge on Friday to dismiss the corps from a lawsuit over mountaintop removal.
The lawyers said there was no longer any reason to sue the corps, because the agency withdrew its proposed approval for Arch Coal Inc. to receive the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history.
On Thursday, the corps told Arch Coal it had "virtually no chance" to win a lawsuit over the permit and might set "an unfavorable precedent" by continuing the court battle.
In March, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II temporarily halted the corps from issuing the Clean Water Act permit for a 3,100-acre mine expansion of its Dal-Tex complex near Blair, Logan County.
Environmental group lawyers challenged the corps' decision to permit the mine under a blanket, nationwide general permit, rather than an individual permit requiring a more thorough review by regulators. General permits are supposed to be issued only for activities that would cause "minimal adverse environmental impacts."
Haden ruled in March that there was enough evidence to warrant a temporary injunction against the permit. The judge scheduled a full trial for July 13.
By withdrawing the nationwide permit, the corps will require a complicated environmental assessment of the Arch Coal proposal. Studies of the mine's potential impacts could take up to two years.
Late Friday, Arch Coal challenged the corps' authority to withdraw the blanket permit approval, The Associated Press reported.
Bob Bays, general manager of the St. Louis-based company's West Virginia operations, said that the corps did not follow proper procedures in revoking the permit.
In a letter to the corps, Bays said, federal administrative procedures require the corps to meet with Arch Coal "informally" and give the company opportunity to "furnish information which satisfies" the agency's concerns.
Arch Coal has said it plans to close Dal-Tex by July 23. Nearly 400 United Mine Workers members would lose their jobs.
Steven F. Leer, CEO of Arch Coal, issued a news release that said: "By reneging on the authorization of this permit, the Corps has condemned our employees to at least two years of unemployment.
"Further more, the Corps has acted in this manner without any explanation whatsoever about what prompted this reversal," Leer said.
"We consider it indefensible that a federal agency would act in such a manner, especially when the livelihoods of so many hard-working West Virginians and their families are at stake."