Earthjustice lawyer Jennifer Chavez, who represents environmental groups that intervened on EPA's side of the case, declined comment on the judge's ruling.
While the coal industry favors mountaintop removal's efficiency, and local political leaders praise the jobs provided, there is a growing scientific consensus that the practice is causing widespread and irreversible damage to the region's forests, water quality and communities.
Coal industry lawyers sued the EPA last July, alleging that the agency was writing new regulations without required public input and exceeding its legal authority over surface mining operations.
EPA asked the judge to dismiss the case, arguing that more rigorous permit reviews and new guidance did not amount to final agency decisions that could be challenged in court.
But Walton concluded that, "it is clear to the court that the EPA has implemented a change in the permitting process" that can be challenged.
Walton ruled that the industry is likely to win on the merits of its case, but had not shown that mining companies face irreparable harm needed to warrant a preliminary injunction prior to a full hearing on the case.
"If a plaintiff has shown that financial losses are certain, imminent and unrecoverable, then the imposition of a preliminary injunction is appropriate and necessary," Walton wrote. "Here, however, the plaintiff has not demonstrated the imminence of any of its members' losses."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.