Bob McLusky, a lawyer for Massey, argued that citizen groups have little chance of winning a final ruling to block the permit. McLusky cited a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals that overturned an earlier decision by Chambers blocking four other Massey strip-mining permits.
Lovett responded that the science detailing mining's water quality impacts has advanced significantly since Chambers heard that case in October 2006, with new research detailing significant impacts to downstream water quality.
Over the weekend, Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., had joined Massey in praising the Corps' approval of the company's permit, citing a backlog of mining proposals held up by tougher permit reviews instituted by the Obama administration.
"I am very pleased to see some progress being made and commend the Corps for working to find a balance that allows the mining to go forward while minimizing the environmental impact," Rahall said.
In a news release, the Corps said Massey had agreed to reduce the length of stream impacted by the mine by 400 feet.
But in their lawsuit, the citizen groups said the 13,743 linear feet of stream impacts listed in the Corps news release is actually more than 500 feet longer than the stream impacts listed in an agency public notice issued in March 2008.
That notice listed the total stream impacts as 13,174 linear feet. Corps permit documents actually list the stream impacts in the final permit as 13,478 linear feet -- a figure different from the agency's news release and the public notice.
Citizen groups noted in their lawsuit that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had issued letters outlining a variety of concerns about the Reylas mine proposal. EPA has not issued any written explanation of why it dropped those objections. A Corps spokesman said the EPA called his agency and signed off on the permit's approval.
Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman for the Highlands Conservancy, said she's concerned that the EPA is backing off its crackdown on mining pollution in response to political pressure that has increased since Republicans took control of the U.S. House.
"I'm just hopeful that the outlandish stuff that is going on in Congress doesn't negate all of the progress that we have made this past couple of years and stunt EPA's enthusiasm for doing the right thing," Rank said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.