American coal producer Arch Coal's plans to build a mountain top mine in western Virginia have been halted as a federal appeals court in the US backed the regulators who sought to stop the project.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has the legal right to cancel a permit for the mine, called Spruce No. 1, even after an approval from another federal agency, the US Army Corp of Engineers.
The ruling, which is against a controversial type of coal mining called mountaintop removal, reversed a lower court's decision in favour of Arch Coal.
The court, however, instructed a lower court to consider whether the EPA's action was 'arbitrary and capricious'.
The battle over this western Virginia mine started in 2007, when the government granted a permit to Arch coal to release its mining waste into three river streams and associated tributaries.
In 2011, four years after the Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit, the EPA overturned it, referring to concerns over water quality.
The country's coal industry believes that this long-term battle over Spruce No.1 is a part of the EPA's attempts to stop coal production and restrict its consumption.
The mountaintop mining technique use explosives to remove the mountain tops to mine coal, and requires a variety of permits under the Clean Water Act for the disposal of rock, dirt and mining waste into surrounding streams.
Various environmental groups argue that mountaintop mining will destroy the landscape of the Appalachian Mountains, where the practice is common, and poses a health risks to people using water around the region.
Following the latest federal appeals court's ruling, the case will go back to the district court for further proceedings.
Image: Mountaintop mining technique requires various permits under the Clean Water Act for the disposal of rock, dirt and mining waste into surrounding streams. Photo: JW Randolph.