Read the ruling here.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal judge has overturned the Obama administration's veto of the largest mountaintop-removal mining permit in West Virginia history, saying the agency greatly oversteps its authority in blocking the controversial project.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency is not authorized to withdraw a Clean Water Act permit that already was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"This is a stunning power for an agency to arrogate to itself when there is absolutely no mention of it in the statute," Jackson wrote in a 34-page opinion that's been highly anticipated by all sides in the mountaintop-removal debate.
Jackson called the language at issue in the law unclear and confusing, but said the EPA's reading was not a reasonable interpretation.
The decision is a major victory not only for mine operator Arch Coal Inc. but also for the coal industry and for Appalachian political leaders who have been waging a bitter campaign against the EPA's crackdown on mountaintop removal.
"We're pleased the district court has ruled in our favor -- confirming that our Spruce No. 1 permit remains valid," said Kim Link, a spokeswoman for St. Louis-based Arch Coal.
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, said the ruling "struck another blow for restoring the rule of law and regulatory certainty by rejecting the EPA view that it has unbounded authority to retroactively revoke permits issued by another federal agency."
The EPA did not comment on the ruling Friday.
Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign, said the environmentalist group is disappointed with the decision and "fully anticipates" that the EPA will appeal.
"If this permit goes forward and the proposed mining takes place," Hitt said, "it will have dire consequences for families and their homes, water and land."
Still pending in federal court in Washington is another case in which the National Mining Association and various coal-producing states are challenging new water-quality guidance the EPA issued to try to reduce impacts of surface coal mining in Appalachia. A hearing in that case is scheduled for June 1.