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ARSENAL COAL COMPANY ET AL. v. COMMONWEALTH PENNSYLVANIA (01/13/83)

decided: January 13, 1983.

ARSENAL COAL COMPANY ET AL., PETITIONERS
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESOURCES ET AL., RESPONDENTS



Original jurisdiction in case of Arsenal Coal Company, Barren Coal Company, Beltrami Enterprises, Inc., Blaschak Coal Company, Botella Trucking, Inc., Brook Contracting Corp., Buckto Corporation, Burns Coal Company, Cass Contracting Company, Cassel Coal Company, Conyngham Contracting Company, Inc., Cracker Coal Corp., D & F Coal Company, Drew Development Corporation, Fedako Coal Company, Franklin Miller Coal Company, Gaelic Coal Company, Glenworth Coal Company, Great Eastern Coal Corp., Harry David Mining Company, J.R.K. Coal Company, J & W Coal Company, Kerris and Helfrick, Inc., Kocher Coal Company, Kol-Mor, Inc., Lally Enterprises, Last Try Coal Company, Lehigh Valley Anthracite, Inc., Lensco Corporation, Lucas Mining Company, Lucky Strike Coal Corporation, Manbeck Dredging Company, Martin Coal Company, McCaul Contracting Company, Meadow Brook Coal Company, Mercury Coal Company, Metzinger Coal Company, Mine Hill Coal Company, Olenick Brothers Coal Company, Pine Creek Coal Company, Premium Fine Coal, Inc., Reading Anthracite Company, Rosini Coal Company, Inc., Savitski Brothers Coal Company, Schuylkill Contracting Company, Skytop Contracting Company, Inc., Split Vein Coal Company, Sunray Coal Company, Superior Coal Company, Swatara Coal Company, Swift Coal Company, Underkofflers Coal Service, Inc., Vito j. Rodino, Inc., Winne Land Company, Zakrewsky Coal Company v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Resources, Peter S. Department of Environmental Resources, Peter S. Duncan, Secretary of the Department of Environmental Resources.

COUNSEL

James J. Curran, with him Edward E. Kopko, for petitioners.

John C. Dernbach, Assistant Counsel, with him Peter Shelley, Gary L. Martin, and Douglas R. Blazey, Assistant Counsels, for respondents.

President Judge Crumlish, Jr. and Judges Rogers, Blatt, Williams, Jr. and MacPhail. Opinion by Judge Blatt.

Author: Blatt

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 189]

Before us are the preliminary objections of the Department of Environmental Resources (DER) to a petition filed by the petitioners, who are coal mine operators and producers located throughout the anthracite region of the Commonwealth. The said petitioners sought preliminarily*fn1 and then permanently to enjoin the DER from implementing certain regulations promulgated by the Environmental Quality Board which govern environmental performance standards, bond limits and revegetation responsibility for the surface mining of anthracite coal. Specifically, the petitioners argue that these regulations differ impermissibly from the regulatory program governing the anthracite industry in existence in this Commonwealth on August 3, 1977.*fn2

[ 71 Pa. Commw. Page 190]

By way of preliminary objections the DER has raised, among other issues, the question of whether or not the petitioners have failed to exhaust an adequate administrative remedy under Section 1921-A of the Administrative Code of 1929, Act of April 9, 1929, P.L. 177, as amended, added by Section 20 of the Act of December 3, 1970, P.L. 834, 71 P.S. ยง 510-21.

Our Supreme Court in Shenango Valley Osteopathic Hospital v. Department of Health, Pa. , , 451 A.2d 434, 438 (1982), in commenting upon administrative remedies provided by the legislature, stated that:

The doctrine of exhaustion of administrative remedies as a restraint upon the exercise of a court's equitable powers not only reflects a recognition of the general assembly's directive of strict compliance with statutorily-prescribed remedies, it also acknowledges that an unjustified failure to follow the administrative scheme undercuts the foundation upon which the administrative process was founded. This premise was succinctly set forth in our decision in T. Mendelson Co., Inc. v. Pennsylvania R.R. Co., 332 Pa. 470, 474, 2 A.2d 820, 822 (1938).

The technical nature of the subject, and the peculiar ability of an administrative body to examine it, suffice as a matter of public policy to displace preliminary court action.

The premature interruption of the administrative process restricts the agency's opportunity to develop an adequate factual record, limits the agency in the exercise of its expertise and impedes the ...


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