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Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Aracoma Coal

556 F.3d 177 (2009)

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Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition v. Aracoma Coal

United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

556 F.3d 177 (2009)

Facts

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) § 404, mine operators may seek a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers (the corps) to discharge fill materials in navigable waters. All other fill activity fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) as the federally approved state Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) regulating authority. Aracoma Coal (defendant) sought a § 404 permit from the corps to discharge waste products from mountain-top mining in river valleys. Mountain-top mining occurs when coal seams in mountains are exposed by blasting the tops of the mountains. The corps’ regulations required a district engineer to address the impacts of the specific activity that required a permit from the Department of the Army (DA). Ultimately the corps granted a permit to Aracoma Coal. Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC) (plaintiff) challenged the corps’ grant of the permit. OVEC argued that the corps improperly limited its scope of review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA required federal agencies to take a hard look at the environmental consequences of their actions. OVEC argued that the corps did not sufficiently evaluate the effects of the permit because the corps only evaluated the permit’s impact on jurisdictional waters and not the broader impact of the entire valley fill project. The district court found in favor of OVEC and rescinded the permit. Aracoma Coal appealed.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Gregory, J.)

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