The state Division of Environmental Protection held a public hearing on a draft mining permit for the Dal-Tex expansion in December 1997.
At the time, Hobet Mining agreed to a list of permit changes - such as limiting mining near homes - that DEP and the company said would reduce the harm to nearby communities. The changes reduced the size of the mine to 3,113 acres.
Arch Coal did not submit those permit revisions to DEP until April, agency officials said Friday. By law, DEP then had to hold another public hearing in May 1998 on the mining permit.
At the same time, EPA objected in June and in August to the state issuing a water pollution permit for the Dal-Tex expansion. That permit is required if Hobet wants to dump millions of tons of excess rock and earth into hollows and streams to form valley fill waste piles.
EPA held a public hearing on its objection to that federal Clean Water Act permit a week ago in Logan.
Under the law, EPA must at some point after the hearing either reaffirm or withdraw its objection. Federal regulations do not spell out a time line for that action. EPA officials have indicated it could take several months for them to review comments from the Oct. 24 hearing.
Meanwhile, the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation has not issued the mining permit for the Dal-Tex extension.
DEP officials have been sitting on the permit, at least in part, because of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists, who want to curb mountaintop removal mining. Among other things, the lawsuit alleges DEP cannot issue a mining permit for a mountaintop removal mine until EPA first approves the water pollution permit.
EPA objected to the Hobet Mining water permit and water permits for two other mountaintop removal mines because the agency believes the proposals violate the federal Clean Water Act.
Federal regulators want coal companies and the state to provide more concrete information about the long-term environmental impact of burying streams under millions of tons of strip mine waste.
During the Oct. 24 hearing, EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe defended his agency's actions before an angry, pro-coal crowd of more than 500 people.
"The EPA does not want coal miners to lose their jobs," McCabe said. "We do not want the Appalachian economy to suffer.
"We want to achieve the best balance between protecting the environment and encouraging this kind of economic growth," he said.
On Friday, mining critic Cindy Rank of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy said she feels for the families that may suffer if Arch Coal lays off hundreds of workers.
"Anybody has to have sympathy for workers when they lose their jobs," Rank said. "No one has any intention of putting people out of work. We just want the companies to follow the law so the communities and workers will have something left when the coal is gone."
Rank also questioned whether Arch Coal couldn't put the Dal-Tex employees to work doing reclamation on areas that have already been mined until the permit holdup is resolved.
"I hope Arch Coal is not using their workers as pawns to force the agencies to take a position they're not ready to take because the law doesn't allow them to weaken their regulations," Rank said.