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No mountaintop mine settlement reached

A week after a federal judge delayed trial in a case over mountaintop removal mining, a settlement on most issues has still not been reached.

No proposed settlement document had been filed in U.S. District Court in Charleston as of late Friday afternoon.

Lawyers for citizen groups and the state Division of Environmental Protection had said they hoped to submit their proposal to Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden by the end of this week.

Negotiations on a settlement agreement, however, went slower than the lawyers had hoped.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said coal operators balked at parts of an initial agreement because it did not exempt all pending mountaintop removal applications from tougher rules.

"That's still a sticky point," Raney said Thursday. "We're just going to have to get a clarification on that."

Sources said Friday that the issue appeared to have been resolved, and a settlement document could be filed with Haden early next week.

The lawsuit alleges that DEP has ignored federal mining and environmental laws in a "pattern and practice" of issuing illegal mountaintop removal permits.

DEP has admitted it did not consistently apply mining rules, and has proposed a number of improvements in the state regulatory program.

Most allegations in the lawsuit will apparently be resolved, but a dispute over whether 100-foot stream buffer zones apply to valley fills will have to be decided by the judge.

On July 9, Haden delayed trial in the case from July 13 until Aug. 2 to give the parties time to work out their partial settlement.

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


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