A federal judge said Friday he will delay a trial in a case over mountaintop removal mining to give regulators and environmentalists more time to work out a settlement.
Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II said he would postpone the trial, scheduled to start Tuesday, until Aug. 2.
Haden ruled just hours after Arch Coal Inc. said it would give up its fight to get the largest mountaintop removal mine in state history authorized under a blanket Clean Water Act permit.
The case before Haden focuses on allegations of widespread problems in the state Division of Environmental Protection's permitting of mountaintop removal. Part of the case also involves a challenge to a single Arch Coal permit.
During a hearing Friday, lawyers for all sides said they were close to an agreement on most of the issues in the case against DEP. The lawyers asked, and Haden agreed, to dismiss the case against the Arch Coal permit.
Haden also warned the lawyers that he wanted to keep control of the case.
"Be very careful that you don't eliminate federal jurisdiction," the judge said.
"I want to see this case through to conclusion," he said. "I don't have to try it all, but I want to maintain jurisdiction."
Arch Coal subsidiary Hobet Mining fought for months to have the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approve the 3,100-acre expansion of its Dal-Tex mine in Logan County under a general, nationwide permit that requires little scrutiny by regulators.
In a news release, St. Louis-based Arch Coal said most of the 400 United Mine Workers employed at Dal-Tex would be laid off while the company applies for a more rigorous individual permit.
Environmental studies required for an individual permit could take up to two years. But Arch Coal said the corps agreed to "expedite the processing" of the individual permit.
"Needless to say, this announcement is tragic news for the nearly 400 UMWA members who will suffer greatly because of today's decision by Arch," said UMW President Cecil Roberts.
"Not only will these fine working men and women suffer, but so will their families and the communities where they live."
In a prepared statement, Roberts added, "During the course of this debate, the UMWA has taken considerable heat for intervening to try and expedite a permit, but I make no apologies for doing what I did - and for what the union did.
"The UMWA's primary function, contrary to what some may believe, is to fight to protect the jobs of its members," he said.
Arch Coal says it has run out of coal to mine on its current Dal-Tex permits and wants to move the mine east into Pigeonroost Hollow near Blair.