Coalfield residents, environmental activists, miners and industry officials will get a chance this week to help decide how federal regulators conduct a first-of-its-kind study of mountaintop removal mining.
Four federal agencies and one state agency have scheduled three public hearings in West Virginia to accept public input on the two-year environmental impact study.
The hearings run Tuesday through Thursday, and will be held in Summersville, Charleston and Logan.
Federal officials agreed to conduct the study to settle part of a federal court lawsuit environmentalists filed to try to curb mountaintop removal mining.
The partial settlement, announced in late December, has been criticized by both sides.
Coal industry officials say it will shut down mining in the state. Environmentalists say it doesn't go far enough to protect mountains and streams from mining abuses.
The four federal agencies - the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Office of Surface Mining and the Fish and Wildlife Service - asked citizens, businesses and community groups to comment on issues and concerns they want included in the study.
The state Division of Environmental Protection has joined in the effort, and other Appalachian states will be asked to participate as well.
The four federal agencies published identical Federal Register notices Feb. 5 to announce the hearings.
According to the notices, the study will "consider developing agency policies, guidance, and coordinated agency decision-making processes to minimize, to the maximum extent practicable, the adverse environmental effects to waters of the United States and to fish and wildlife resources from mountaintop mining operations, and to the environmental resources that could be affected by the size and location of fill material in valley fill sites.
"The number of mountaintop mining operations that utilize valley fills, as well as the scale of individual operations, have increased in recent years in West Virginia," the notices said.