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Supreme Court Decision Called Victory For Environment With PM-Scotus Rdp, Bjt

March 10, 1987

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Pennsylvania’s attorney general says a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding state coal-mining restrictions is a victory for the environment, but mine operators say it will cost billions of dollars.

The justices voted 5-4 Monday to uphold a Pennsylvania law that generally requires mining companies to leave half their coal reserves in the ground if buildings or other structures are threatened by potential mine settling. The law puts an estimated 30 million tons of coal off limits to mining.

″The Supreme Court has agreed that the long-term adverse impact of mine subsidence in the environment outweighs the short-term interests of the coal companies in extracting every possible ounce of coal and profit from their mines,″ Attorney General LeRoy S. Zimmerman said in a statement.

A group of coal operators had challenged the law, saying it in effect meant their property was being taken for a public purpose without the just compensation promised by the Constitution.

They said they are prevented from mining about 30 million tons of coal from mines under lands protected by the state law.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the court, said those tons of coal should not be considered separate property. Instead, he likened the Pennsylvania law to a zoning ordinance that requires a building to occupy no more than a specified percentage of a property lot.

″Obviously, we’re disappointed in the court’s ruling,″ said John Shirvinsky, president of the Keystone Bituminous Coal Association, one of the plaintiffs.

He said coal operators may look to the Legislature for help, ″so we can promote economic development in Pennsylvania’s coal areas.″

The National Coal Association and other organizations had supported the Pennsylvania coal operators, saying the case could have national repercussions. They told the justices that access to billions of tons of coal was at stake.

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