Arch Coal Inc. President Steven Leer said Tuesday his company hasn't dropped plans to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal mine in Logan County.The proposed permit was halted last month by a federal court order. Nearly 400 miners could lose their jobs by August without the new permit."We're committed that the mine will restart," Leer said in an interview.Last week, Arch Coal said it would ask U.S. District Judge Charles Haden to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin processing a new permit for the 3,100-acre Dal-Tex expansion.The company said that this time it would ask the corps for an "individual permit," which receives more scrutiny from regulators than the company's previous application for a "nationwide" permit under the Clean Water Act.But the company also said in court papers that it would ask that the individual permit be designed as Arch Coal's original permit application was, not as a slightly scaled-back mine negotiated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.Leer said Arch Coal officials continue to meet with representatives of environmental groups and the United Mine Workers to try to work out a compromise permit."If somebody can show us a mining plan that is feasible and economical, we will certainly listen," Leer said. "But we haven't found one, and we've looked pretty hard."Leer was in Charleston on Tuesday to speak at a safety conference sponsored by Norfolk Southern. The railroad company hauls much of Arch Coal's production, and owns large tracts of Southern West Virginia coal through its Pocahontas Land Co.During a 40-minute speech at the Embassy Suites hotel, Leer said that the international treaty to combat global climate change and the West Virginia "anti-mining movement" among environmentalists threaten potential coal industry growth.Cheaper coal from giant surface mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin - where Arch Coal is also a major producer - means that any increase in Central Appalachian mining costs is a danger."It's a battle, and when we change the economics in the East, we help that western coal," Leer said.Leer said efforts by regulators and environmentalists to curb mountaintop removal are a particular threat."Many viewed it as an Arch fight," Leer said. "I don't view it as an Arch fight. I think it has much larger implications."Also Tuesday, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining said it would send two teams of OSM employees to help the state Division of Environmental Protection speed up improvements in its mining permit processing.OSM Director Kathy Karpan and DEP Director Michael Miano held a news conference in Morgantown to announce the two agencies would work together to clear up a backlog of 38 permit applications."We have to recognize that we cannot turn a regulatory battleship on a dime, but we have now accomplished turning the battleship around, and we are now committed to moving forward," Karpan said.Sen. Robert C. Byrd and Rep. Nick Rahall, both D-W.Va., have been pressuring regulators to work faster to improve and coordinate the permitting process.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.