The federal government is stepping out of the appeal in the ongoing federal lawsuit regarding mineral rights on the Allegheny National Forest.
Late last week, attorney Robert Stockman with the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a letter to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia indicating the federal defendants will not be filing a brief in the appeal, as did the Sierra Club and Allegheny Defense Project.
“The district court entered final judgment against the defendants,” Stockman wrote. “The Solicitor General decided not to appeal from that judgment. Plaintiffs filed no cross-appeal seeking to expand the judgment. In these circumstances, the federal defendant-appellees do not anticipate filing a brief.”
The letter was submitted to the court in lieu of a brief.
The lawsuit was brought in 2009 by Minard Run Oil Co. and Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association against the U.S. Forest Service and its officers, as well as Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Sierra Club and Allegheny Defense Project. It was filed in response to a settlement agreement between the Forest Service and the environmental groups in April 2009, and a subsequent decision by then-Forest Supervisor Leanne Marten. Those two actions effectively changed the long-standing practices of the Forest Service in dealing with owners of private mineral rights within the national forest.
Marten’s statement, coupled with the settlement agreement, halted new drilling on the national forest until a forestwide environmental impact assessment could be made.
In December 2009, federal judge Sean McLaughlin sided against the Forest Service, barred further implementation of the settlement agreement and reinstated previous rules regarding drilling on the Allegheny National Forest. That ruling was upheld on appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in September 2011.
In September 2012, McLaughlin made permanent his December 2009 ruling in the case, bringing the suit to an end.
The environmental groups filed an appeal from that ruling, asking the Third Circuit to overturn McLaughlin’s decision. That appeal will continue.