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UMW hires engineer to examine mountaintop permits

The United Mine Workers has hired its own mining engineer to try to come up with a better permit for Arch Coal Inc.'s stalled Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County.

UMW President Cecil Roberts announced the move Wednesday, a day after a federal judge allowed the union to intervene in a lawsuit over the 3,100-acre mountaintop removal proposal.

A month ago, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II issued a preliminary injunction that halted permits for Arch Coal to expand its Dal-Tex complex onto the Spruce mine property near Blair.

In a 47-page decision, Haden ruled that environmental group lawyers had made a strong argument that the permits were issued in violation of federal mining laws.

Roberts said in a news release that the union "has hired a mining engineer to work with the parties to develop a permit that might be acceptable to all parties involved in the Dal-Tex lawsuit.

"If we can put together a permit that everyone will agree on, there is every reason to believe that UMWA members could get back to work at Dal-Tex," Roberts said. "The UMWA is committed to exploring every possible avenue to resolve this dispute."

Already, the union has taken part in at lest two private settlement meetings also attended by lawyers for Arch Coal, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and federal and state regulatory agencies.

The first such meeting took place March 12, before Gov. Cecil Underwood made moves to try to bring the parties together for negotiations. Another meeting was held last week.

At least one formal settlement meeting was also scheduled by Haden in an order filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Charleston. That meeting will be held June 7.

On Tuesday, Haden approved the UMW intervention in the case and moved up the date for a full trial in the mountaintop removal case from early September to July 13.

"Both of these developments represent very positive steps forward," Roberts said. "We believe there should be a solution here that would permit mining and protect our members' jobs, while still allowing adequate environmental protections."

Roberts has called a national UMW memorial day - giving all union members the day off from work without pay - for Friday to bring attention to, among other things, the mountaintop removal issue.

UMW members across the country are also off work today. Under the union's national contract, April 1 is a paid holiday to commemorate the establishment of the eight-hour work day.

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


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