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Coal industry jobs arguments irrelevant, environmentalists say

Coal industry arguments that new rules on mountaintop removal mining will cost West Virginia 2,800 jobs are based on inadmissible and irrelevant evidence, environmental groups and federal regulators say.

The U.S. Justice Department and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy urged Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II to ignore the complaints from various coal companies and industry trade groups.

Michael Keller, an assistant U.S. attorney, filed court papers on Thursday to respond to industry objections to a partial settlement of a lawsuit over mountaintop removal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushed for the proposed settlement to resolve some of the allegations that mountaintop removal permits issued by the state violate environmental laws.

Under the settlement, federal regulators would conduct a two-year environmental study to come up with new rules to govern mountaintop removal.

In the meantime, most new mountaintop removal permits would be subject to additional regulatory scrutiny and have to receive special permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to bury streams under valley fill waste piles.

Haden is considering whether to approve the settlement.

In mid-February, lawyers for coal industry groups filed a court brief that argued against the settlement.

As part of their court papers, the lawyers filed an affidavit from Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Raney said that his group had conducted an anonymous survey of coal companies and determined that the new rules would cost the state 2,800 mining jobs.

Raney did not name the companies involved, or identify specific permits that would be hampered by the new rules.

In their court brief, the government and the environmental groups said Raney's statements can't be considered by the judge.

"Mr. Raney's affidavit consists entirely of hearsay statements from seven unnamed companies," the brief says. "Furthermore, Mr. Raney refers to various mining permits, but does not identify a single one that involves a valley fill that would affect more than 250 acres."

Only mining permits with valley fills burying streams that drain more than 250 acres would be subject to the interim permitting requirements contained in the settlement agreement.

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.


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