The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected a request to reconsider the appeal of a group of environmental interests in a lawsuit over mineral rights on the Allegheny National Forest.
The lawsuit is Minard Run Oil Co. and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) versus the U.S. Forest Service, several of its officials and environmental groups Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Allegheny Defense Project and Sierra Club.
The suit was decided in favor of Minard Run and PIOGA in December of 2009 by now-retired federal Judge Sean McLaughlin. His decision was upheld by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and again by the appeals court.
Now the appeals court has declined to reconsider the matter en banc, or as a full panel of judges rather than a panel of three jurists. In an order entered Dec. 27, Circuit Judge Marjorie Rendell indicated a majority of the circuit judges of the appeals court did not vote to rehear the case. Therefore, the petition was denied.
The suit was filed in 2009 in response to a settlement agreement and a subsequent statement by the Forest Service saying no new drilling would be authorized in the national forest until a forestwide environmental impact study was completed. Mineral rights owners argued in the suit that the de facto ban on new drilling exceeded the authority of the Forest Service. The courts agreed.
McLaughlin’s ruling in the case essentially said the U.S. Forest Service was to be treated the same under the law as any other owner of surface rights in Pennsylvania. As such, the Forest Service did not have the ability to deny or delay access to the owners of privately held mineral rights on the Allegheny National Forest.
The appeals court relinquished jurisdiction in the case to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania on Jan. 6.