Michael Hendryx, a West Virginia University researcher who has published more than 20 scientific papers linking mountaintop removal to coalfield health problems, said the Patriot settlement sounds like a positive step to help address those issues.
"The evidence is clear that large-scale surface mining is harmful to the environment and public health," Hendryx said. "I think this is a terrific development. I would like us to try to keep in mind that as this type of mining declines, it's going to be really important to think about what happens next, to think about different types of employment for the people who live here."
Since taking office in January 2009, the Obama administration has launched several initiatives to try to curb mountaintop removal, or at least more closely scrutinize new mining permits.
The moves fell well short of the mountaintop removal ban sought by citizen groups. But mining industry officials and coalfield political leaders have opposed the Obama efforts, labeling them part of a "war on coal," and succeeding in overturning U.S. Environmental Protection Agency actions in court.
The EPA has appealed those courtroom losses.
Oral argument is set for mid-March before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in a case over EPA's veto of the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia history. No argument has been scheduled yet in a case over EPA's new water quality guidance for strip-mining in Appalachia.
In another case, environmental groups have an oral argument in mid-March before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in which they challenge U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers' decision not to throw out an Alpha Natural Resources mountaintop removal permit in Logan County.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.