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Enforcing laws would create jobs in coalfields, environmentalists say

Strict enforcement of federal surface mining laws would create more coalfield jobs than unregulated mountaintop removal, environmentalists told a federal judge on Friday.

Lawyers for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and other citizens made their argument in a response to the United Mine Workers' effort to intervene in a landmark case over mountaintop removal. The environmentalists told Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden that they do not oppose the UMW's involvement in the case.

In a four-page response, the environmental lawyers said the UMW's "interests are distinct from and in fact may conflict with the interests of the operators, coal associations and land holding companies."

"The coal operators do not have an interest in protecting the jobs of coal miners, or in sustaining the communities in which mountaintop removal mining occurs," the brief said.

"In the current lax regulatory environment, coal operators make their mining plans on the assumption that state regulators will ignore several central regulatory requirements," the brief said.

On March 3, Haden issued a preliminary injunction that halted permits for Arch Coal Inc. to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine onto a 5-square-mile area along Pigeonroost Branch near Blair, Logan County. Haden ruled that environmentalists had made a strong argument that the mine's permit violated state and federal rules.

A week later, UMW lawyers asked Haden to allow them to intervene in the case. The union wants to protect the jobs of nearly 400 miners who work at Dal-Tex.

Earlier this week, UMW President Cecil Roberts said that the goal of the "environmental extremists" involved in the lawsuit is to "simply shut down the nation's coal industry, without regard for the people, families and communities affected."

In their response filed Friday, environmental group lawyers said, "It is important to emphasize, however, that enforcing longstanding state and federal environmental laws does not necessarily conflict with preserving jobs.

"Indeed, the enforcement of the Surface Mining Act will likely result in the creation of more jobs and in economic development in the communities where mountaintop removal mining occurs," they said.

"For example, if the law pertaining to post-mining land use were properly enforced, the land would be developed and jobs would be created to sustain the community after mining," they said.

The lawyers noted that Peter Lawson, an Arch Coal mine manager, testified in federal court that draglines like the one the company uses at Dal-Tex "replace miners that could otherwise be employed to mine the coal."

Haden has not ruled on the UMW's motion to intervene.

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


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