The suit prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal regulators to agree to subject new mountaintop removal permits to additional scrutiny.
Under the settlement, federal officials would conduct a two-year environmental impact study intended to suggest new rules to govern mountaintop removal. In the interim, most mountaintop removal mines would have to seek more detailed individual permits from the Corps, rather than be authorized under the less stringent, "nationwide permit" the agency has used for years.
EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe exempted the Hobet Pigeonroost operation, called the Spruce No. 1 Mine, from that agreement. It would be permitted without the additional scrutiny.
As part of the EPA deal, Hobet agreed to reduce the amount of streams it would bury under valley fills by 40 percent.
In his ruling, Haden agreed with environmental groups lawyer James Hecker, who argued that the company reduced the size of the operation only to avoid an extensive study required by the National Environmental Policy Act.
Hobet officials, Haden noted, acknowledged in court that the current permit application is merely the "first phase" of the company's plans for Pigeonroost Hollow.
"It seems apparent the operations were split intentionally to allow the commencement of mining operations under a less critical agency review and to delay more detailed scrutiny until after significant work has begun," Haden wrote.
Haden specifically discussed only one other issue in the permit dispute: the question of whether the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation improperly allowed Hobet to receive a permit without an approximate original contour variance.
DEP authorized the mine as one that meets the approximate original contour, or AOC, reclamation standard. However, the judge wrote that, under the Hobet permit, "current plans for regrading will leave five level or gently rolling areas, in stark contrast to the current topography."
Haden wrote that environmentalists "have raised substantial, serious questions going to the merits of whether Defendant Miano himself has breached mandatory, nondiscretionary duties in his application of the AOC requirement."
A trial in the case is scheduled for early September. Currently, the preliminary injunction will stand until the trial and a decision.
Before then, Hobet Mining lawyers could appeal the preliminary injunction ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Both sides could file requests for summary judgment on any of the issues in the case.
James Snyder, a Jackson & Kelly lawyer representing Hobet, said he had not seen the ruling and therefore could not comment.
James Weekley, who lives in Pigeonroost Hollow and is a plaintiff in the case against the mine, said he was pleased by the judge's decision.
"I'm very happy," Weekley said. "Now we can look forward for the future of West Virginia. That's what this is about. It's not about money. It's about the future of West Virginia."