West Virginia's two U.S. senators and three congressmen have all urged federal regulators to hurry up and decide how to enforce mining laws so coal companies can start getting permits again.
The five Democratic elected officials signed a joint letter to Carol Browner, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The letter was sent on Oct. 30, the same day Arch Coal Inc. threatened to lay off 400 miners if the company doesn't get a new mining permit soon.
Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller signed the letter. Reps. Alan Mollohan, Nick Rahall and Bob Wise also signed it.
"The Arch Coal announcement evokes a number of concerns regarding mining in West Virginia primarily as they relate to the implementation of the Clean Water Act," the letter said.
"We are particularly troubled by a perception that the regulatory machinery envisioned by Congress with the passage of the Clean Water Act has ground to a virtual halt," the letter said.
At least three proposed mountaintop removal mining permits are on hold.
EPA has stopped the state from issuing Clean Water Act permits for mines proposed by Arch Coal and A.T. Massey Coal Co. EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe says the state Division of Environmental Protection and the companies have not proven that the mines would not violate federal rules that prohibit degrading streams.
At the same time, EPA and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, along with other agencies, have been trying to figure out which agency has jurisdiction over what regulations governing mountaintop removal.
An OSM study on the issue, due out in mid-August, is now three months late.
A federal court lawsuit, filed by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, alleges that the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation has illegally issued mountaintop removal permits that don't comply with the Clean Water Act and the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.