There was an interesting development Friday in one of the mountaintop removal cases that is making its way through the federal courts.
Lawyers from the Obama administration Justice Department filed a short notice with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, dropping the government’s appeal of a November 2009 ruling by federal District Judge Robert C. Chambers.
This particular ruling by Judge Chambers, available here, held that the federal Army Corps of Engineers wrongly issued mountaintop removal permits without allowing adequate public input. In particular, the Corps considers permits to be administratively complete and ready for public notice and comment before some key documents — most importantly the “mitigation plans” through which companies try to compensate for burying streams — are available for the public to examine and comment on.
What does this mean?
Well, the environmental groups are just fine with the government dropping its appeal, but at least some of the mining firms that intervened are opposing the move. There may be a legal argument over whether the government’s dropping its appeal ends the case altogether. At the least, if the government drops its appeal, then the industry can’t argue in its appeal that Chambers was wrong not to defer to the Corps — because essentially the agency is backing down by dropping its appeal.
While this decision to drop an appeal may be part of the Obama administration’s crackdown on mountaintop removal, it’s important to remember that this case was simply about whether citizens got the right to actually comment on important parts of a permit before it was approved.
All I can really say for sure is stay tuned …