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Two more leave mining lawsuit

Two more of the Southern West Virginia citizens who sued to try to curb mountaintop removal mining have dropped out of the case, court records showed Wednesday.

Madison lawyer Harry Hatfield and his wife, Marcia, asked earlier this week to be removed as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, according to records in U.S. District Court in Charleston.

Hatfield said he still had some problems with mountaintop removal, but didn't want to see the area economy ruined by the lawsuit.

"I still have many of the concerns I had before, but whether it's worth the price we're going to pay down here, I don't know anymore," Hatfield said. "It's a terrible price to pay for the 300 or more people who are going to lose their jobs.

"It's an immediate and horrible price to pay, and it's in an area that doesn't have anything else," he said. "Coal is the only game in town. I wish we had a more diverse economy, but we don't."

Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II approved their request in an order entered Tuesday afternoon. Haden's order said he dismissed the couple as plaintiffs "for good cause shown."

In a written request to Haden, the Hatfields cited unspecified "personal reasons" for wanting out of the case.

In July 1998, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and a group of coalfield residents filed a federal court lawsuit to try to limit the size and scope of mountaintop removal operations.

Last year, two of the original 10 individual citizen plaintiffs dropped out of the case. Tommy and Victoria Moore pulled out of the suit after they settled a separate lawsuit against Arch Coal Inc. The company paid the Moores $225,000 to drop the separate suit, but the couple had to agree to also drop all other challenges to mountaintop removal.

On March 3, Haden issued a preliminary injunction order that halted Arch Coal from opening a new mountaintop removal mine in Logan County until a trial in the case, scheduled for September.

Since then, Arch Coal has said it will close its Dal-Tex mine, which wants the new permit, and lay off nearly 400 miners who work there.

Haden dismissed Hatfield and his wife from the case, though it was not clear if his wife was ever formally a plaintiff. Court records did not list her as a plaintiff, but her name was listed in some legal briefs the plaintiffs filed.

Also in the mountaintop removal case on Wednesday, Haden sealed two new documents filed in the case file.

Public court records did not indicate what the documents were, or why they were sealed. Haden did not file a formal order that the documents be sealed.

Lawyers for Arch Coal Inc., the state Division of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and environmental groups said they were not familiar with the documents, and had not asked that any records be sealed.

One of Haden's law clerks said the judge instructed her not to comment on the documents. Haden did not return phone calls.

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


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