Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Pennsylvania Coal Mining Ass'n v. Watt

ELR Citation: 13 ELR 20773
Nos. No. 82-1129, 562 F. Supp. 741/19 ERC 1316/(M.D. Pa., 04/20/1983)

The court upholds three of four actions by the Secretary of the Interior approving or disapproving portions of Pennsylvania's application for surface mining regulation primacy under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). The court first notes that SMCRA authorizes the Secretary to approve state programs if they are "consistent with" SMCRA and "in accordance with" Interior Department regulations implementing the statute. The court upholds Interior's approval of the state's provision for judicial review of surface mining unsuitability designations. Federal regulations require judicial review of such designations in accordance with state law. Pennsylvania's program, which allows judicial review only of appeals from unsuccessful applications to mine land previously declared unsuitable, is "in accordance with" the federal regulation since the regulation does not specify when judicial review is to be available and Pennsylvania has similarly limited judicial review under other environmental statutes. The court next holds that Interior erred in approving the state provision for resolving requests for releases from performance bonds posted by coal operators. The court rules that the provision does not satisfy the requirements of SMCRA and the implementing federal regulations because it does not indicate how soon a hearing on such a release request must be held after such a hearing is sought. The federal regulations require a hearing and a decision on the request within specified periods. The court then upholds the Secretary's approval of a "catastrophic storm exemption" from surface mine effluent limitations that is more stringent than that promulgated by the Environmental Protection Agency under Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). Although the Secretary is barred from promulgating effluent limits for surface mines more stringent than those set under the FWPCA, the state is not so limited. Both the FWPCA and SMCRA expressly allow states to set standards more stringent than those set by the federal government. The court rejects plaintiffs' arguments that the catastrophic storm exemption is not an effluent limit or control requirement within the meaning of §510 of the FWPCA and that impossibility of compliance is a proper basis for striking down a state restriction imposed under the FWPCA.

Finally, the court affirms the Secretary's disapproval of Pennsylvania's description of the circumstances under which a violation may be allowed to continue unabated for more than 90 days. The court rules that plaintiffs have standing under SMCRA §526(a)(1) to challenge the rejection of the state provision. Turning to the merits of the state program, the court rules that the Secretary did not abuse his discretion in rejecting the state provision allowing compliance extensions under broadly defined circumstances because the federal regulations limit extensions to five specific situations.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Stephen C. Braverman
Dilworth, Paxson, Kalish & Kauffman
610 Locust Ct. Bldg., Harrisburg PA 17101
(717) 236-4812

Counsel for Defendants
Barbara L. Kosik, U.S. Attorney
Fed. Bldg., P.O. Box 73, Harrisburg PA 17108
(717) 782-4482

Alfred T. Ghiorzi
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2306