A federal court in the District of Columbia has dismissed a challenge to a determination to de-list the Blair Mountain Battle site from the National Register of Historic Places, which plaintiffs allege opens the door to coal mining in the area. Sierra Club v. Salazar, No. 10-1513 (D.D.C 10/2/12).
The property at issue is where the “largest organized armed uprising in American labor history” occurred in 1921. The site has multiple owners, including some coal mining companies, and mining permits had been issued for some areas before the site was proposed for listing multiple times. The last proposal, in 2009, resulted in placement on the list. Due to a procedural error, i.e., failure to count a number of property owners’ objections, the property was removed from the National Register in December 2009. Plaintiffs sued to force reconsideration of the delisting. The court dismissed the case after concluding that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
The court rejected the plaintiffs’ claim that they had a lower bar than normal to meet standing requirements because theirs was a case alleging violation of procedural rights. The court found that the action was incorrectly characterized as involving a procedural right violation because instead of seeking to enforce a right that the law afforded the plaintiffs, their claim was that following improper procedures resulted in an incorrect decision. Because the procedures did not apply to them or afford them rights, plaintiffs’ case was, according to the court, not a procedural rights case.
The court held that plaintiffs failed to meet any of the standing requirements. According to the court, they could not show injury in fact because “[t]he mere possibility that the coal mining companies will engage in surface mining on the Battlefield due to removal of the property from the National Register is not sufficient to show that the plaintiffs will suffer an imminent injury as required for this Court to exercise jurisdiction in this case.” The court also found that plaintiffs had not demonstrated that their alleged injury was fairly traceable to the delisting decision because whether mining occurs depends on the independent action of third parties not before the court.
The court further determined that plaintiffs could not prove redressability because even if the property were on the National Register, mining could occur, according to the statute, if “the regulatory authority and the Federal, State, or local agency with jurisdiction over the property jointly approve of the mining operation.” The court held that this rendered it impossible to redress the plaintiffs’ desire to prevent mining by court action placing the property back on the register.