A special committee will be appointed to periodically review mining permits under the proposed settlement of a federal court lawsuit over mountaintop removal.
The committee will include engineers picked by the coal industry, environmental groups and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, The Charleston Gazette learned Monday.
If approved, the settlement would also set up a homesteading program through which large coal and land companies would give property to low-income coalfield residents.
Lawyers for the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, the state Division of Environmental Protection and the coal industry worked out the proposal. The deal was negotiated primarily by Joe Lovett, a lawyer for citizens, DEP lawyer Brian Glasser, and coal industry lawyer Terry Sammons.
The conservancy board approved the proposal Saturday, and the West Virginia Coal Association backed it Monday afternoon.
Both groups wanted small changes in the agreement. Lawyers hoped to work those out in time for a draft consent decree to be filed with Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II later this week.
Details of the agreement are also under consideration by federal regulators. Lawyers hoped to get approval from government agencies before filing the settlement with Haden.
According to sources and documents reviewed by the Gazette, the proposal would also:
Improve upon a new "approximate original contour," or AOC, definition issued in March by OSM and DEP. Under the definition, coal operators must put more of the rock and earth they remove back on hilltops, and less into stream bed valley fills.
Limit post-mining land uses for permits that allow land to be flattened through AOC variances to those allowed under federal law. Uses such as fish and wildlife habitat would be discontinued. The definition of the "woodlands" post-mining land use would be tightened.