Since Feb. 3, Haden has blocked the state Division of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from permitting the operation. The judge has twice extended temporary restraining orders against the mine.
Haden must now decide whether to issue a preliminary injunction, which could block the mine's permits until a trial of the full case in September.
The judge has held an estimated 35 hours of courtroom hearings and spent a day touring mountaintop removal sites on the ground. On Friday, Haden spent the morning flying over mountaintop removal mines in Southern West Virginia to understand the scope of the mining.
In recent years, mountaintop removal has become more prevalent. Mines have gotten bigger, with mountaintop removal accounting for two-thirds of the 18,000 acres of West Virginia permitting for strip mining in 1997.
Last July, the Highlands Conservancy and a group of coalfield residents filed a lawsuit to try to rein in mountaintop removal.
As a result, federal agencies agreed to conduct a two-year environmental impact statement aimed at coming up with new regulations on mountaintop removal. In the meantime, the agencies said most mountaintop removal proposals would have to receive a more thorough "individual permit" from the corps, rather than being approved through less stringent "nationwide permits" meant for activities that cause minimal environmental damage.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exempted the Pigeonroost permit from those individual permit requirements, meaning it won't get additional scrutiny.
Jim Hecker, a lawyer for environmental groups, urged Haden to reverse that decision and force regulators to undertake a more rigorous individual permit for the operation.
Steven Rusak, a lawyer for federal agencies, argued that there was no reason for Haden to do so because "there is a rational basis for the corps" decision to grant Hobet authorization under a nationwide permit.
Wolfe said: "Mountaintop mining is legal, [and] valley fills are necessary to virtually any kind of mining in this state."
Lovett told Haden that a further delay in the Pigeonroost permit won't kill Hobet Mining and that complying with federal mining laws won't eliminate mountaintop removal.
"Enforcement of the buffer zones will not prohibit all valley fills and mountaintop removal mines," Lovett said. "It will, however, reduce the size of some fills.
"The coal is not going to go away," Lovett said. "Hobet will be able to mine it when it submits a permit application that is complete and that complies with the law."