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Appolo Fuels, Inc. v. Babbitt

ELR Citation: 32 ELR 20269
Nos. No. 00-5376, 270 F.3d 333/(6th Cir., 10/24/2001)

The Sixth Circuit affirms a district court judgment upholding the Interior Board of Land Appeals' (IBLA's) decision that a mining company violated federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) regulations requiring the elimination of cliff-like rock walls known as "highwalls" at its surface coal-mining site in Kentucky. The company argued that it had initially backfilled the site properly and that the subsequent re-exposure of highwalls does not violate SMCRA. The court first holds that the company's interpretation of SMCRA is contrary to the statutory provisions requiring the establishment of the approximate original contour and the elimination of highwalls, contrary to clear legislative intent, and unsupported by any precedent. The court also holds that the federal action was not barred by res judicata because Kentucky had already decided not to hold the company responsible for any alleged violation. The IBLA has consistently ruled that the principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply to the Office of Surface Mining (OSM). The court then holds that the OSM had jurisdiction to order the reclamation action even though it may not have unlimited jurisdiction to pursue violations in primacy states, such as Kentucky. Although Kentucky has the primary responsibility to enforce mining regulations, the OSM maintains oversight jurisdiction to enforce those regulations if the state fails to do so.

Counsel for Plaintiff
James R. Golden
Denham, Golden & Nagle
1914 Cumberland Ave., Middlesboro KY 40965
(606) 248-2765

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

Daughtrey, J. Before Gilman and Weber, * JJ.

* The Honorable Herman J. Weber, United States District Judge for the Southern District of Ohio, sitting by designation.