Lawyers for Arch Coal Inc. won't get to quiz federal regulators about their decision to withdraw a proposed permit for the company to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine.
On Tuesday, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II granted the Army Corps of Engineers' request for a protective order against interviews requested by Arch Coal lawyers.
Haden said the answers to Arch Coal's questions could violate the corps' attorney-client privilege. The judge also said the corps' decision may not be a final agency action subject to review by the court.
The judge's decision was the latest in a flurry of last-minute action in what promises to be a landmark lawsuit over mountaintop removal mining.
One part of the lawsuit alleges the state Division of Environmental Protection routinely approves mountaintop removal permits that violate state and federal mining rules.
Related allegations charge that the corps violated the law when it proposed to authorize the Dal-Tex expansion under a blanket, nationwide permit that requires little environmental scrutiny.
Trial is scheduled for July 13.
A settlement on many of the allegations against DEP appears to be possible before the trial. But lawyers are fighting a confusing legal battle over the status of the Dal-Tex corps permit.
St. Louis-based Arch Coal wants a 3,100-acre permit to move the mine into Pigeonroost Hollow in Logan County.