New regulations on mountaintop removal mining could cost the West Virginia coal industry 2,800 jobs, company lawyers told a federal judge on Thursday.
Lawyers for Arch Coal Inc. subsidiaries, coal industry trade groups and large landholding companies said in court papers that permit delays would cripple mining in the state.
Shane Harvey, a lawyer with the firm Jackson & Kelly, late Thursday filed the industry's response to a proposed partial settlement of a lawsuit aimed at curbing mountaintop removal.
The settlement was proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
Under the settlement, federal regulators would conduct a two-year environmental impact study that could result in new, long-term regulations on mountaintop removal.
In the interim, most large strip mining projects would have to receive special permits that require more regulatory scrutiny than federal and state agencies have previously required.
"This change comes as a complete surprise to the coal mining industry and will result in the shutdown of many operations and the termination of thousands of jobs," Harvey wrote in a 19-page brief filed with Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden.
Harvey noted that Michael McCabe, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has said the special permits could take up to two years to process.
Attached to his brief, Harvey included a six-page affidavit from Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Raney stated that he had contacted members of his group and asked them how the proposed settlement would affect their operations.
Seven companies responded to the inquiry, Raney stated. Raney did not name the companies, but stated he would do so "if requested by the court."