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Coal River Mountain Watch v. United States Department of the Interior

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20230
Nos. 13-cv-1606, (D.D.C., 11/25/2015) (Jackson, J.)

A district court denied DOI's motion to dismiss an environmental group's lawsuit challenging OSM's determination that a surface mining permit could not be automatically terminated without first providing notice to the permit holder. SMCRA provides that certain mining permits will be terminated if the permittee has not commenced operations under that permit within three years of the permit's issuance. This case arose after the group asked West Virginia's mining agency to deem a three-year-old permit void because the permit holder had not yet commenced operations. But the state determined that it first had to provide notice to the permit holder. The group consulted the regional OSM office, which determined that termination was automatic. The permit holder, meanwhile, contacted OSM headquarters, which determined that notice should be provided before a permit can be terminated. The group then filed the instant action, claiming that OSM headquarters' determination was a rulemaking that required notice-and-comment procedures and that its substantive conclusion was contrary to SMCRA in violation of the APA. The group also filed a substantively identical APA lawsuit against DOI in the Southern District of West Virginia. DOI filed a motion to dismiss the instant action to "avoid duplicative litigation and promote judicial economy and comity" in light of the pending action in the other district court. But the court has federal-question subject matter jurisdiction over this case under 28 U.S.C. §1331, and the equities weigh against dismissing this case in deference to the proceedings in West Virginia. The court, therefore, denied the motion to dismiss.