HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Alpha Natural Resources agreed to hold off work at a Logan County mountaintop removal mine for a little more than a week, to give a federal judge time to consider a request that he block the mine's permit pending a legal appeal.
Alpha lawyer Bob McLusky said the company would wait to start work under the Clean Water Act "dredge-and-fill" permit for its Highland Reylas Surface Mine until the end of the day on Aug. 27
The delay should give U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers time for a hearing next Thursday morning on the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition's request for a temporary injunction.
A week ago, Chambers ruled against citizen groups who had alleged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was wrong to approve the Alpha permit for a 635-acre mine near Ethel.
Joe Lovett, a lawyer for the coalition and other environmental groups, asked Chambers to enjoin the corps' permit for the Alpha mine while his clients appeal to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"The public interest would not be served by allowing the irreversible destruction of important environmental resources before the judicial process has run its course," the citizen groups argued in a court filing. "Rather, the public interest supports maintaining the status quo ante, protecting the environmental resources while the judicial process continues to completion."
While the ruling by Chambers applies specifically to the Alpha permit, it also sets a standard for how other permit decisions might be made moving forward.
In his Aug. 10 ruling, Chambers said scientific evidence clearly shows mountaintop removal is damaging water quality and aquatic life downstream from mining operations. But the judge said a previous appeals court ruling tied his hands, forcing him to defer to the Corps of Engineers' permit approval.
Chambers made clear he was bound by a 2009 ruling in a case involving Aracoma Coal Co., in which the 4th Circuit said he overstepped his authority in throwing out four permits issued by the corps.