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West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Norton

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20667
Nos. No. 2:00-1062, 147 F. Supp. 2d 474/(S.D. W. Va., 05/29/2001) ruling on court's jurisdiction

A district court holds that it lacks jurisdiction to enforce state law in an environmental group's Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) citizen suit against a state environmental agency and claiming that the state alternative bonding program for surface mine reclamation bonds is inadequate to meet the minimum requirements of SMCRA. The Office of Surface Mining found that the state's alternative bonding system no longer met the requirements of SMCRA and was not achieving the objectives and purposes of the bonding program set forth in SMCRA. Therefore, in a previous holding, this court found that the state's alternative bonding program was superseded by the federal bonding program and allowed the citizen suit to proceed against the state defendant. However, in Bragg v. West Virginia Coal Ass'n, 248 F.3d 275, 31 ELR 20582 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit held that SMCRA allows for either state or federal regulation of surface coal mining, but not both. The court first holds that the state program at issue here has not been revoked pursuant to SMCRA §1271, nor has a §1271 enforcement proceeding been initiated. Thus, the citizen group is challenging a state program that is still effective state law. Because of the doctrine of sovereign immunity, the court lacks jurisdiction to order a state official to follow state law, and, therefore, the citizen group's claim must be dismissed.

[A decision related to this litigation is published at 31 ELR 20582.]

Counsel for Plaintiff
James M. Hecker
Trial Lawyers for Public Justice
1717 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Ste. 800, Washington DC 20036
(202) 797-8600

Counsel for Defendants
Steve Barclay
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Haden, J.