Lawyers for coalfield residents asked a federal judge on Monday to delay a July 13 trial in a landmark lawsuit over mountaintop removal mining.
At the same time, Arch Coal Inc. and the United Mine Workers requested that the judge stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from withdrawing its proposed approval of the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia history.
Lawyers for all sides filed a flurry of motions late Monday, hours after a pre-trial conference with Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden.
Haden did not immediately rule on any of the requests.
"You know the stakes are high," Haden told about 20 lawyers who attended the 45-minute pre-trial conference.
"The worst thing that could come out of this litigation would be no resolution," Haden said. "If I could address all of the issues in this lawsuit, I would like to do that."
In the July 1998 lawsuit, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and a group of coalfield citizens allege the state Division of Environmental Protection routinely issues mountaintop removal permits that violate federal and state laws. The lawsuit also alleged that the Corps of Engineers routinely violates the Clean Water Act when it permits mountaintop removal valley fills.
In December, the Corps settled its part of the lawsuit by agreeing to perform additional environmental reviews before issuing permits. But Arch Coal's proposed 3,100-acre Spruce No. 1 Mine was exempted from that settlement, meaning it would not receive the additional regulatory scrutiny.
In early March, Haden issued a preliminary injunction that halted permits for the Spruce Mine.