Reports of a settlement in the mountaintop removal mining case have been greatly exaggerated, a federal judge said Friday.
But U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II still wants to hear what the public thinks about an agreement proposed in the landmark lawsuit.
People will now have 45 days to file comments with the court or the state Division of Environmental Protection about the proposal. Haden promised to review all comments.
The judge also rebuffed challenges to his injunction blocking work on what would be the state's largest mountaintop removal mine at Spruce Fork in Logan County.
During the brief morning hearing, Haden stressed that the proposal, as he viewed it, needs a lot of work.
"I suggest there is less here than meets the eye," Haden said. "Things have not been resolved, and they are a long way away from getting there."
Under the proposal, DEP would sign a consent decree reached between the agency and the coalfield residents and environmentalists who filed the lawsuit.
The decree would require DEP to more strictly follow existing laws governing mountaintop removal mining, with the agency answerable to Haden. New laws would also be drafted to address concerns about the mining method from the coalfield residents and environmentalists who filed the lawsuit.
While encouraging the parties to continue working toward a resolution, Haden said the details of the agreement are sketchy.
"These efforts are not anywhere near complete," Haden said. "It's a long way before a proposed settlement and a resolution of a global issue that requires legislation and a whole host of other things."
Commenting after the hearing, both sides involved in the proposal welcomed Haden's stance.