Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Rep. Nick J. Rahall on Wednesday urged regulators to work faster to fix problems with the mountaintop removal mining permit process.
The West Virginia Democrats said agencies have not moved quickly enough to implement the terms of a federal court settlement that allowed some permits to be issued.
"Clearly, there is a need to shore up what has been a lax oversight environment," Byrd said.
"I would not presume to suggest whether all or any of the outstanding permits should be granted, but surely decisions can be reached in a more timely fashion," that state's senior senator said.
"We simply wanted to impress upon these agencies," Rahall said, "that while our environment must be protected, the men and women working in the coal mining industries whose jobs are on the line deserve answers, and rightly so expect their government to efficiently process these permits."
In a federal court settlement with environmentalists, the U.S. Justice Department agreed that most large mountaintop removal permit applications would receive additional scrutiny. The Army Corps of Engineers would process those applications as individual permits, rather than under a nationwide general permit as had been done in the past.
Smaller mining proposals, including smaller mountaintop removal operations, could be permitted as before.
But since the settlement was reached in December, no new permits had been issued by the state DEP until Tuesday, a day before the agencies met with Byrd and Rahall.
Also on Tuesday, just before the meeting, the agencies signed an agreement on how they will process the smaller permits before a two-year environmental impact study of mountaintop removal is completed.
Rahall met Wednesday with about 50 citizens and elected officials who are upset with a federal court ruling that halted new permits for Arch Coal Inc. to expand its Dal-Tex mine in Logan County.