UMW files request to join mining lawsuit
The United Mine Workers union wants to join the lawsuit which prompted last week's federal court ruling halting work at the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia's history.
The union filed a request Friday to become defendants in the suit, which targets mountaintop removal at Arch Coal Inc.'s 3,100-acre site near Blair, Logan County.
The union filing coincided with an afternoon rally outside the Capitol which featured union President Cecil Roberts and other speakers.
At the rally, Gov. Cecil Underwood and coal industry leaders called for "a reasonable balance" between environmental concerns and Southern West Virginia's coal-based economy, which they say is threatened by the court ruling.
Temperatures hovering around 40 degrees and a brisk northwesterly wind did nothing to deter the approximately 2,000 people who gathered for three hours of speeches by Underwood, Roberts and other political, labor and industry leaders.
"We can have a clean environment and we can have it without destroying the jobs in our state," Underwood told the group.
Speakers said the rally was to call attention to the human costs of a federal court ruling that put a stop to the start-up of Arch Coal's proposed strip mine near Blair.
Last week, U.S. District Judge Charles Haden issued a preliminary injunction blocking work on the mine until a dispute over the legality of mountaintop removal mining can be resolved. Haden said he expects a trial to occur this fall.
Arch Coal executives have said the company will have to lay off about 350 miners by July if they cannot begin work on the new operation.
The union's request to join the lawsuit cites the layoff threat. However the court decides the dispute "will, in all probability, affect the jobs and job security of UMWA coal miners at the mine," the petition said.
"The disposition of the issues remaining to be resolved in this action may impair or impede [the union's] ability to protect the interests of its members," the petition said.
The petition also said the union's interests "cannot adequately be represented" by the lawsuit's current defendants: state and federal officials, as well as industry-related groups which petitioned to join earlier.
In an interview, Roberts said he hopes the judge can be persuaded to expedite the hearing process.
"The 64 miners who have already been laid off at the Dal-Tex mine and their families, along with 300 other miners at that site who will soon lose their jobs, must now face the devastating reality of the court decision," Roberts said.
Combined with changes imposed by the federal Clean Air Act and a proposed international treaty on global warming, "the Dal-Tex decision sends a clear message that all West Virginians must unite to protect our jobs and our state's economy," Roberts said.
One group of industry supporters convoyed to Charleston from Logan. With horns blaring and flags waving, more than 100 vehicles circled the federal courthouse before heading to the Capitol.
Supporters carried signs lambasting the EPA, environmentalists, The Charleston Gazette and some of the Logan County residents who brought the lawsuit challenging the legality of mountaintop removal mining.
"Protect the species at the top of the foodchain," said one sign.
Industry executives contend that the legal dispute over Arch's proposed Spruce No. 1 mine has effectively shut down all mine permitting.
Very few new mining permits were issued in 1998, and none have been issued at all in 1999, said West Virginia Coal Association Vice President Chris Hamilton.
Those delays could force the layoff of another 1,000 miners in 10 counties, Hamilton said.