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Lawmakers won't help Arch Coal with permit

Sen. Robert C. Byrd and other members of West Virginia's congressional delegation said Friday they would not help Arch Coal Inc. obtain the largest mountaintop removal permit in state history.

Byrd said the delegation would not try to stop the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from revoking a permit for Arch's 3,100-acre Dal-Tex mine expansion in Logan County.

Arch Coal has said it plans to lay off nearly 400 United Mine Workers on July 23 if it does not receive the permit.

Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., urged Arch Coal CEO Steven Leer to consider mining approaches other than mountaintop removal to keep the mine going.

"To keep people working, could you not limit the size of the mine or change to a different type of mining operation?" Wise asked. "It seems to me that, although it might not be as profitable, such an approach would keep people working."

According to a news release from Byrd's office, Arch Coal Vice President Terry O'Connor responded to Wise by saying that, "We could use other equipment, but it would not be economically feasible ... [That choice] would be very imprudent from a business standpoint."

Byrd, D-W.Va., hosted a nearly three-hour meeting Friday morning with Gov. Cecil Underwood, UMW President Cecil Roberts, Leer and other UMW and Logan County officials.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Reps. Nick J. Rahall and Alan Mollohan, all D-W.Va., attended the meeting.

Supporters of the Arch Coal permit had asked for the meeting in the hopes that Byrd and other elected officials would lobby the corps or push for specific federal legislation to save the permit.

Byrd's news release called any effort to intervene with the corps "illegal and unethical."

"The delegation sympathizes with the situation facing the union miners in Logan County who face uncertainty in the weeks ahead," Byrd said.

"But the federal delegation cannot intervene in this matter," he said. "As to our passing legislation that would address this situation, I can tell you that if we felt that such legislation would be successful, we would have done it already."

Rockefeller said, "The congressional delegation is united in its commitment to protecting West Virginia coal mining jobs. However, the pending lawsuit constrains us from interfering with a decision by a federal agency involved in the case.

"Given the central role of the state government in any conceivable solution, we also asked the governor to concentrate his efforts on this problem."

In early 1998, Underwood prompted EPA to stall mountaintop removal permitting by signing a bill that lowered the amount of compensation companies must perform when they fill in state streams with mine waste.

Rod Blackstone, press secretary for Underwood, said that after the meeting, the governor "expressed a few concerns about what we can do together from here. "There is an interest by the parties involved in this meeting to be able to protect coal mining jobs in West Virginia," Blackstone said. "That's not an effort that will succeed by one person or two person's actions alone."

Rahall, whose district includes Logan County, said, "The congressional delegation, all of us, are first and foremost concerned with the welfare of the miners and their families, and we will work with the UMWA President, Cecil Roberts, to find meaningful employment for these men and women."

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702, or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.


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