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UMW praises ruling

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts said Thursday that he hopes an appeals court ruling on mountaintop removal helps put 400 laid-off miners in Logan County back to work.

In a prepared statement, Roberts praised the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for overturning Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II's ruling to limit mountaintop removal valley fills.

"The 4th Circuit has spoken, and we are hopeful that its decision will mean a return to work to 400 UMWA members who - by no fault of their own - were displaced after Judge Haden's 1999 ruling," Roberts said.

"It is also the UMWA's strong hope that a comprehensive resolution will be forthcoming with regard to the practice of mountaintop mining in West Virginia - and that it can be achieved in a constructive - not a contentious manner," Roberts said. "UMWA members have always been willing to mine the coal. It is up to the industry, the state and the people of West Virginia to decide what law will dictate how they mine it."

On Tuesday, the 4th Circuit overturned an October 1999 ruling by Haden to ban valley fills in perennial and intermittent streams.

Judge Paul V. Niemeyer ruled only on the question of whether Haden had jurisdiction to hear the case. Industry lawyers argued that he did not, and Niemeyer agreed.

In their appeal of the Haden decision, UMW lawyers did not join in the industry's argument of jurisdiction.

Union spokesman Doug Gibson declined to say why the union did not support the argument that eventually won the case for the coal industry.

In an earlier, March 1999 ruling, Haden had blocked a permit for Arch Coal Inc. to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal operation near Blair in Logan County. Arch Coal did not submit a permit application that met mining regulations, Haden ruled.

After the March 1999 ruling, St. Louis-based Arch Coal shut down the Dal-Tex operation and laid off about 400 members of UMW Local 2935.

"Unfortunately, the lengthy litigation surrounding the issue of mountaintop mining led to more than a few of our displaced Dal-Tex members having to seek other employment, enter into retirement or leave the area entirely," Roberts said. "We are now hopeful that Arch Coal can get its permit and return the hard-working miners that remain back to work as quickly as possible."

In a move unrelated to the 4th Circuit ruling, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has scheduled a public meeting for Wednesday at Chief Logan State Park to discuss an environmental impact study of the proposed Dal-Tex expansion.

Under a court settlement previously approved by Haden, large mountaintop removal mines must undergo additional scrutiny by regulators before they are approved. In the Dal-Tex case, the Corps is conducting a broad environmental study of the proposed expansion.

Originally, Arch Coal proposed to expand the operation with a 3,100-acre mine up Pigeonroost Hollow. Later, the company proposed a somewhat smaller version of the operation. It was not immediately clear Thursday how big the operation now being considered is.

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call

348-1702.


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