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Arch Coal will seek early trial in lawsuit over mining

Arch Coal Inc. will ask a judge to move up the trial date in what promises to be a landmark federal court lawsuit over mountaintop removal coal mining, a company lawyer said Tuesday.

Roger Wolfe, lead lawyer for Arch subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc., said the company doesn't want to wait until a September trial to have the issues decided.

Wolfe added that an appeal of a preliminary injunction by Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II would take too long - perhaps two to four months - to help the company save its Dal-Tex mining complex in Logan County.

"Haden, as well as anybody, knows the importance of this issue," Wolfe said. "So I would hope that he would move this up."

A week ago, the judge issued a preliminary injunction that blocks Hobet Mining's planned expansion of its Dal-Tex operation until a trial on the merits of a case which seeks to curb mountaintop removal.

In a detailed, 47-page ruling last week, Haden said that permanent destruction of forests and streams from any mining over the next six months outweighed possible short-term economic damage to Hobet and its employees.

The preliminary injunction deals only with the permit for the mine at Pigeonroost Branch in Logan County. But the issues in the broader mountaintop removal lawsuit - known as the "pattern and practice" case - could affect the entire surface mining industry.

On Monday, St. Louis-based Arch Coal announced it would close the Dal-Tex complex over the next five months. Almost all of the nearly 400 workers there will lose their jobs by mid-July, the company said.

Meanwhile, state Division of Environmental Protection Director Michael Miano said the Underwood administration does not plan to appeal Haden's ruling.

"I really don't see the decision as negative," Miano said.

"I am sad that the decision has resulted in [layoffs and the mine closure], but I don't have control over that."

Officials from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the other governmental defendant in the lawsuit, said they also do not plan to appeal Haden's preliminary injunction.

Also this week, the Logan County Commission approved a resolution that asked the state's congressional delegation to introduce legislation to override Haden's order.

"The Logan County Commission, being the lead agency for county government, cannot and will not sit idly by and become spectators to the economic demise of our beloved Logan County," the resolution said.

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


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