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West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 29 ELR 20421
Nos. 97-2559, 161 F.3d 797/(4th Cir., 12/07/1998)

The court holds unripe for review the Interior Board of Land Appeals' (IBLA's) ruling that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) lacks jurisdiction to order a mining company to reduce acid mine drainage seeping from a mining operation in West Virginia. The IBLA ruled that the final bond release that the state granted to the mining company constituted a sufficient written determination that the mining company completed all requirements imposed by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), thereby terminating the OSM's jurisdiction over the mining operation. The court first holds that the issue of whether the final bond release constitutes a sufficient writing to terminate the OSM's jurisdiction is not fit for judicial review. Resolution of the dispute is likely to prove unnecessary. The OSM is currently attempting to reassert its jurisdiction over the mining operation and, if successful, will likely reinstate its cessation order. At that time, the parties will again appeal the merits of the order to the IBLA, making the IBLA's current jurisdictional ruling insignificant. The court then holds that the environmental group appealing the IBLA's decision has not identified any specific hardship that it will suffer if judicial review is denied. Further, the group's rights under SMCRA have been fully preserved despite the IBLA's ruling and will not be affected by the court's refusal to hear the appeal.

Counsel for Plaintiff
Walton D. Morris Jr.
Morris & Pepca
540 Arrowhead Dr., Charlottesville VA 22906
(804) 978-1694

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

Before Wilkinson and Widener, JJ.