Rather than even thinking about appealing a federal judge’s ruling in Kentucky, U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining should be apologizing.
Abjectly, profusely, unequivocally apologizing for abetting this state’s three-decades long violation of the U.S. Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act by permitting strip mining without the consent of all the owners of the land.
Certainly, U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar was plain, clear and unequivocal in ruling in favor of a Pike County family whose property is being stripped without its consent by a subsidiary of Tampa-based TECO Energy, which controls only a minority interest in the land.
Thapar ordered a halt to the mining and wrote that “well- established canons of statutory interpretation all point to the same conclusion,” that the law “requires the consent of all surface owners. The consent of ‘a’ surface owner does not suffice.”
Thapar, who was appointed to the federal bench by President George W. Bush, did not reach this conclusion casually. He required three rounds of briefs and held three hearings.
When the suit was filed May 16, he declined to issue a temporary restraining order halting the mining until he had time to delve into the arguments.
But no specialized degree is necessary to understand that the legal interpretation he reached is also common sense and what an average person would assume to be legal and fair.
And yet, since 1982, when Kentucky won the authority to enforce the federal law on surface mining, the state has approved strip-mine permits if an owner of even less than 1 percent of the land agreed to the mining, testified Allen Luttrell, director of Kentucky’s Division of Mine Permits.
The Interior secretary is responsible for ensuring that a state’s enforcement meets the minimum requirements of the federal surface mining law.
And yet, the Interior Department’s lawyers responded to the Pike County landowners’ lawsuit by saying, in effect, whatever Kentucky says is OK by us.
Interior’s indifference to the law and to the people who live with the effects of surface mining is no surprise to Kentuckians who have come to expect it.
Jewell, who has scaled Mount Ranier seven times and became Interior secretary last year, should use this case to educate herself about how her agency’s Office of Surface Mining is enabling the leveling of one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems and has fallen far short in its duty to protect Appalachia’s people and environment from surface mining’s harms.
As for Kentucky, this is yet another example of the official favoritism that always has invited the coal industry to trample people, streams, forests, mountains and the law.
— The Lexington Herald-Leader