But in a conference with Haden on Monday, Lovett told the judge, "We're very close to reaching settlement on most, if not all, of the issues."
The lawsuit alleges that DEP routinely issues mountaintop removal permits that violate rules on AOC, post-mining development, stream buffer zones and water impact studies and reclamation plans.
During Monday's conference, West Virginia Coal Association lawyer Warren Upton told Haden that the parties were "way down the road" toward settling, and that only the buffer zone issue would be left for the judge to decide.
Several weeks ago, the board of the Highlands Conservancy had agreed to continue negotiations with the industry over the buffer zone issue.
Industry officials wanted environmentalists to drop their claims on that issue, in exchange for the industry's creating a new "land trust" through which coal company land would be donated for homesteading and economic development.
However, Arch Coal later vetoed that proposal, according to several sources.
But on Monday, Upton claimed that a move by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw its proposed permit for Arch Coal Inc. to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine had "derailed literally hundreds of hours that the parties have devoted to trying to settle this case."
Part of the mountaintop removal case involves environmentalists' arguments that the Corps cannot permit the 3,100-acre Arch expansion under a general "nationwide" permit program.
A week ago, Corps lawyer Steven Rusak convinced his agency clients to withdraw approval of the nationwide permit and force Arch Coal to apply for a more rigorous, individual permit.
Arch Coal and the United Mine Workers, which represents workers at Dal-Tex, have asked Haden to reject the Corps' efforts to withdraw the proposed permit.
About 400 UMW members are expected to be laid off on July 24 because Arch Coal has not submitted a permit that regulators and the courts will approve.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702 or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.