Rank and Steenstra both objected that the agreement exempts one major application from the new strict standards - the Spruce Fork permit application from Arch Coal Inc.
Rank said, "The government has sacrificed the public interest and the citizens in the town of Blair to the economic interests of a single, powerful mining company."
Arch Coal became West Virginia's top coal producer in June 1996 when it merged the operations of Arch Mineral Corp. and Ashland Coal.
The Spruce Fork mine is located near the Boone-Logan county border. Dal-Tex Mining, owned by United Coal of Bristol, Va., began that mining complex in the 1980s.
McCabe said the Blair mine was "a lightning rod for a lot of concerns. But we got significant concessions from Arch Coal.
"They wanted five valley fills. They agreed to completely eliminate two and significantly reduce the size of two more. They also shrunk the life of the mine from 13 years to five years."
James Weekley, one of the plaintiffs, was upset. "The new policy is likely to help in the future. But it doesn't protect Pigeonroost Hollow, where my family has lived for over 200 years."
The agreement allows Arch to fill up Pigeonroost Hollow with waste rocks from the new mine.
McCabe stressed, "Any future mines will have to go through a rigorous permit review."
McCabe said the agreement also requires the state DEP to "work with federal agencies to insure the permitting process works properly."
Lawyers from the U.S. Department of Justice signed the agreement on behalf of federal agencies on Wednesday.
Wednesday's settlement resolves three claims in the lawsuit filed in July by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and 10 coalfield citizens.
Their lawyers include Charleston lawyer Joseph Lovett and Morgantown lawyers Patrick C. McGinley, Suzanne M. Weise.
Twelve additional claims remain unresolved in the lawsuit pending before U.S. District Judge Charles Haden.
Rank said, "The plaintiffs will continue their case against DEP to vindicate the citizens' rights guaranteed more than 20 years ago when Congress passed the federal Surface Mining Act."