The regional administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is pushing environmentalists to settle a lawsuit over mountaintop removal coal mining.
EPA Region III Administrator Michael McCabe met for several hours Monday afternoon with lawyers and activists from the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Pat Boyle, McCabe's press spokesman, confirmed that McCabe was asked by the U.S. Department of Justice to attend the meeting and promote a proposed settlement.
"DOJ asked McCabe to come down there and try to move these discussions along," Boyle said Tuesday. "This is the government's attempt to settle this litigation."
Mountaintop removal blasts off hilltops to uncover valuable low-sulfur coal seams underneath. Leftover rock and earth is dumped into valleys, burying streams.
In mid-July, the conservancy and a group of coalfield residents filed a federal court lawsuit that alleges mountaintop removal mines have been illegally permitted. Named as defendants in the suit are the state Division of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Among other things, the lawsuit alleges the corps has illegally permitted valley fills that destroy streams under the Clean Water Act's "dredge and fill" provisions, and that DEP has not required mountaintop removal mines to meet tough reclamation and post-mining development rules.
In legal depositions, corps officials have agreed with the allegations concerning their agency's improper permitting of valley fills.
On Dec. 9, Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden canceled a scheduled hearing in which the conservancy's lawyers planned to ask for an injunction to make permanent the corps' self-imposed valley fill permit moratorium.
The next day, conservancy lawyers met in Washington with Justice Department attorneys who are representing the corps in the litigation. The government lawyers proposed a plan to settle at least part of the lawsuit.