Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Wednesday that he has no immediate plans to seek legislation to overturn a new court ruling that would limit mountaintop removal coal mining.The West Virginia Democrat said he would let an appeal of Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II’s decision take its course.Byrd was asked about the Haden ruling by a group of reporters in Washington. Late Wednesday, his office released a transcript of the discussion.The senator was asked if he saw any role for Congress to play in the current debate over Haden’s decision.
“I don’t particularly see any role, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” Byrd said. He added that the appeals process is “where it ought to run its course.”Since the May 8 ruling by Haden, Byrd has declined requests for a reaction to the decision.In his ruling, Haden said that the Clean Water Act generally prohibits mine operators from burying streams with mountaintop removal waste rock and dirt.
Valley fills may only be authorized, Haden said, if they are proposed with a “constructive primary purpose” other than waste disposal. Haden likened this “primary purpose” to the post-mining development plans required for mountaintop removal mines with approximate original contour reclamation variances.After a similar ruling by Haden in 1999, Byrd tried to pass legislation that would have overturned the decision. At the time, the ruling was suspended pending an appeal and, because of the appeal, the Clinton administration refused to support Byrd’s legislation.This week, lawyers for the coal industry and the Army Corps of Engineers are trying to convince Haden to suspend his new ruling pending an appeal. Environmental groups’ lawyers want the ruling to remain in effect while it is appealed. All of the legal briefs are not due until Tuesday, so a decision won’t come before then.In his comments on the ruling, Byrd also said, “I’ve taken the position that there ought to be a balance between the environment on the one hand — conservation — and on the other hand the energy needs of the economy.“There needs to be a balance,” Byrd said. “This is something that is being appealed, as I understand it, and I don’t see how any statement of mine would be of any help at this point. I think that would be premature.”To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.