In a major win for landowners in the state of Kentucky, a federal judge has ruled that a company should not have been granted a permit to strip mine the land when it did not have the consent of all of the land’s owners.
The issue in the case was whether coal companies have to get permission for surface mining from all landowners when individuals share ownership with companies and the surface and mineral rights had been severed, which is not unusual in Eastern Kentucky.
State and federal regulators had long taken the position that any surface owner — even one with a 1 percent interest — could give permission for a coal company to mine.
That position is incorrect, however, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar said in a decision issued Friday.
The federal surface mining law says a coal company has to get consent to mine from all surface owners, Thapar ruled.
The five plaintiffs in the case were represented by Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, along with Lexington attorney Joe Childers. According to Childers, “This is an order that upsets 32 years of erroneous interpretation of the federal surface mining act. It’s a very significant opinion.”
The defendants in the case – the secretary of the U.S. Interior Department and Premier Elkhorn Coal Company – could potentially appeal the decision. However, according to a powerful editorial from the Herald-Leader, that would be quite unethical:
Rather than even thinking about appealing a federal judge’s ruling in Kentucky, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining should be apologizing. …
Jewell, who has scaled Mount Ranier seven times and became Interior secretary last year, should use this case to educate herself about how her agency’s Office of Surface Mining is enabling the leveling of one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems and has fallen far short in its duty to protect Appalachia’s people and environment from surface mining’s harms.
As for Kentucky, this is yet another example of the official favoritism that always has invited the coal industry to trample people, streams, forests, mountains and the law.
For a full overview of the case, we have attached a .pdf file of Judge Thapar’s ruling: Johnson v. Jewell Temporary Injunction 6-13-14