Leaders of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy declared victory Tuesday with the partial settlement of a landmark lawsuit over mountaintop removal mining.
"We have won major concessions on all points in this settlement," said Frank Young, the conservancy president.
"This agreement will help rein in mountaintop removal, bringing the practice to the standards of the law," Young said. "This was the premise of our lawsuit."
On Monday, lawyers for the conservancy, other coalfield citizens, the state Division of Environmental Protection and the coal industry filed a proposed consent decree with Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II.
Mountaintop removal blasts off hilltops to uncover valuable, low-sulfur coal reserves. Leftover rock and earth is put into nearby valleys, burying streams.
"DEP Director Michael Miano and Governor [Cecil] Underwood have issued statement after statement saying that DEP was following the law and legally issuing mountaintop removal permits," Young said. "Actions in the lawsuit, including this settlement, show that the law has not been followed."
Miano did not return a phone call Tuesday.
Rod Blackstone, the governor's press secretary, said Tuesday afternoon, "The regulation of mountaintop mining has not been as consistent as it could have been.
"I think there is some recognition within a lot of circles that have been following this debate that what had become accepted practice had deviated from the strict letter of the law," Blackstone said. "What can come out of ... this negotiated settlement can be a clearer picture of what needs to be done to regulate mountaintop mining."
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, downplayed the significance of the settlement.