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Two coal companies have filed a lawsuit against Blaine, claiming that ordinances designed to protect the community from longwall mining violate their rights to do business.

Penn Ridge Coal LLC and Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. filed the lawsuit last week in federal court, alleging 15 counts, including that the ordinances, first passed in 2006 and amended this past summer, violate both the commerce clause and contracts clause of the U. S. Constitution.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Sunday, October 19, 2008-- Two coal companies have filed a lawsuit against Blaine, claiming that ordinances designed to protect the community from longwall mining violate their rights to do business.

Penn Ridge Coal LLC and Allegheny Pittsburgh Coal Co. filed the lawsuit last week in federal court, alleging 15 counts, including that the ordinances, first passed in 2006 and amended this past summer, violate both the commerce clause and contracts clause of the U. S. Constitution.

Allegheny Pittsburgh, based in Greensburg, owns about 10.6 million recoverable tons of coal reserves in Blaine, the lawsuit says, and the company has leased the rights to mine it to Penn Ridge.

That company, based in Tulsa, Okla., plans to spend up to $175 million to develop the mine in the Buffalo Reserve, which stretches across more than 19,000 acres and includes about 56 million tons of coal.

However, the companies say Blaine's ordinances illegally prohibit them from operating a mine.

One ordinance, referred to in the lawsuit as an "anti-corporation" law, prohibits any corporation from doing business within the township if it has a history of more than three violations against it in the past 20 years.

The purpose of the law, it says, is to protect the "health, safety and welfare," of Blaine's residents.

The ordinance further says that it was written because the people in Blaine believe that corporations should not have the same rights as individuals, even though the U.S. Supreme Court has said that they do.

The other local law prohibits corporations from mining in Blaine, a community encompassing about 6,000 acres and a population of about 500 people.

"We knew we needed to try to do something different," said Scott Weiss, a township supervisor, who voted in favor of the ordinances. "We knew where we would end up."

The laws were designed simply to protect the assets of the rural area, which include a pristine watershed, 3,000 acres of state game lands and a wide variety of wildlife, Mr. Weiss said. "If you take away our farms and our springs and our streams, we're no longer who we are," he said.

Some of the effects of that type of mining include subsidence -- land can drop up to 6 feet -- the drying up of streams and loss of water supplies.

Longwall mining has been blamed for the failure of the dam at Ryerson Station State Park in Greene County and the draining of the park's Duke Lake. A lawsuit filed by the state against Consol Energy Inc. is pending.

"People don't want to be long-walled," said Thomas Linzey, the executive director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in Chambersburg. "They've watched as communities around them have been destroyed."

Under state law, municipalities cannot regulate mining companies. Only the Department of Environmental Protection can.

But Mr. Weiss said those regulations don't work.

"[The] DEP has a long record of failed attempts to protect the community," he said. "Instead, what they do is protect commerce."

A spokeswoman for the DEP said the agency wouldn't comment on the situation in Blaine.

The lawsuit against the township charges that the ordinances are inappropriate because they treat individuals and corporations differently. Further the companies say that the ordinances are a back-door way for the township to regulate mining.

But Mr. Weiss said the ordinances do not regulate mining, they simply ban it.

The problem could be resolved, he continued, if the coal companies would employ a process called backstowing that can prevent subsidence.

But the companies refuse to do it, Mr. Weiss said.

"It's cheaper to destroy a community than to do it in a manner that protects the community and environment," he said. "They'll lose a couple hundred million dollars. "I know it's pretty valuable, but so is a way of life."

An attorney for Penn Ridge and Allegheny Pittsburgh would not comment for this report.

In the Blaine case, the companies are asking the court to declare the ordinances unconstitutional and issue an injunction against the township that would prohibit the enforcement of the local laws.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed against Donegal Township in April by the same two plaintiffs, along with three other companies. The supervisors there passed ordinances similar to those in Blaine.

However, the township agreed to repeal the ordinances in June so that the case could be settled.

"The supervisors should have stood firm, but instead they did what municipalities have done for years, which is cave into the mining companies," said Mr. Linzey, who helped write both townships' ordinances.

That won't be the case with the Blaine supervisors, he said.

"You have a board of supervisors who are not going to fold. These folks are going to withstand the assault."


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