Coal operators would agree to a tougher definition of approximate original contour. By putting more waste rock and earth back on mountaintops, the definition would have reduced the size of valley fills by 20 to 50 percent.
Companies would pay "enhanced mitigation" by donating land to a new land trust that would promote economic development and provide free land where Southern West Virginia families could build homes. Families that earn less than $60,000 could receive up to 10 acres free under a new "homesteading" post-mining land use plan.
Under enhanced mitigation, a typical 1,000-acre mining permit with a 175-acre valley fill would require coal company land donation of 2,500 acres.
Regulators would eliminate pasture land, hay land, and range land as post-mining land uses for mountaintop removal mines with approximate original contour variances.
Commercial woodland would be allowed as post-mining land use, but "the reclamation ... must be upgraded to permit real, commercial tree growth."
At least half of all mountaintop removal permits granted by DEP must propose actual development, defined as commercial, residential, industrial or public parks with developed facilities, such as golf courses or swimming pools.
Coal companies would agree to expand pre-mining blast and water quality surveys, and not fight a change in law that would allow regulators to assume damage to property and water near mountaintop removal blasting was caused by the mining.
Late this week, coal industry officials took the buffer zone, land trust and blasting issues off the table, according to some sources.
The decision was made after reports that the U.S. Office of Surface Mining planned to write new rules to define how the buffer zone rule applies to valley fills.
Originally, OSM appeared to be backing the industry view that the rule did not apply to valley fills.
But two weeks ago, environmentalists sued OSM because the agency was writing a new buffer zone policy without allowing for public comments and a hearing. Word leaked on Thursday and Friday that OSM might be switching its position and writing rules to cement the stance.
"If they would go into rule-making, that would certainly alter things," said one industry source. "If you go into rule-making, it comes out how it comes out and that seems to take that issue off the table."
Other sources close to the negotiations said Friday that talks were continuing, just not on all of the issues.
"We have moved in a much different direction," said one source. "However, we are still engaged in what we hope will be fruitful negotiations. The parties are negotiating in good faith."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702 or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.