Federal regulators on Thursday issued the first of a series of strip mining permits that have been tied up for months by the controversy over mountaintop removal.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers approved the 336-acre mine for Pittston Coal subsidiary Vandalia Mining.
EPA and the Corps pushed the permit through a week after being scolded by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., for taking too long to process mining applications.
"We promised West Virginia that we would make permit decisions quickly so that coal can be mined, people can be employed, and the environment can be protected," said EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe.
McCabe praised Pittston for reducing the size of the permit's valley fills by 20 percent, agreeing to channel clean water through the mine from the hill above and improving the stream sedimentation pond.
But the permit appears to violate a federal court settlement that required mining proposals with large valley fills to be approved as more rigorous "individual" permits, rather than less stringent, nationwide "general" permits. State and federal officials have blocked new mining proposals for months as they struggled to work out the details of the court settlement.
Vandalia wants to expand a large mining complex along the Clay-Nicholas County line.
Earlier this year, Pittston threatened to layoff up to 230 miners if it did not receive new permits.
On Thursday, Vandalia Resources President G.O. Young said his company would cancel the layoff notices. But Young also said Vandalia still needs a larger mountaintop removal permit for Ike's Fork if its Clay County operations are to remain viable.