To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702, or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.
The United Mine Workers made a last-ditch effort Thursday to save the jobs of 400 union miners who would work at the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia history.UMW President Cecil Roberts urged Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II to stop the Army Corps of Engineers from revoking a proposed permit for the 3,100-acre Arch Coal Inc. Spruce No. 1 Mine.Two weeks ago, the Corps withdrew its proposed authorization of the Spruce mine under a general, nationwide permit. Then, the agency asked to be dismissed from a federal court lawsuit that challenged the permit."The Corps dropping out at the courthouse door is very problematic," Roberts said during an interview with Gazette editors. "The one hope we have now is for Judge Haden to stop the Corps from doing this."At the same time, a UMW lawyer told Haden that allowing the Corps to withdraw the permit would be "an extremely cruel and unfair way to end the litigation."Union lawyer Perry D. McDaniel filed a statement from Bobby Webb, who tried to help miners find new jobs through the union's Southern West Virginia Career Center in Montgomery.In the two-page statement, Webb argued that UMW members laid off from Dal-Tex will "not be able to obtain other coal mining employment in Southern West Virginia or the adjoining regions."The miners will also be unable to obtain alternative employment with a salary [and] benefit package commensurate with their current compensation," Webb said. "In fact, it is my opinion that the miners will not be able to obtain jobs paying at least $10 per hour without relocation, most likely to another state."Arch subsidiary Hobet Mining Inc. wants the Spruce permit to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal complex near Blair, Logan County.Environmental groups are fighting the Spruce mine as part of their larger lawsuit to curb all mountaintop removal across Southern West Virginia.Separate from the Spruce mine litigation, the larger suit could be settled or go to trial starting Tuesday.Haden is expected to rule today or Monday on how the case will go forward.In March, Haden had issued a preliminary injunction that stopped the Corps from authorizing the mine under the nationwide permit.Haden ruled that environmental groups had a strong legal argument that the mine needed a more detailed environmental review under an individual Corps permit.The Corps said two weeks ago that it would review the mine under an individual permit application, a process that could take one or two years.Last Friday, lawyers for Arch Coal unveiled a new permit revision to address some of Haden's objections. But if that proposal were approved immediately, the mine still could not start up without the Corps permit.In court papers filed Thursday, company lawyers said the Corps told them two months ago that the agency was interested in withdrawing the permit.Company lawyers urged Haden to stop the Corps from doing so."The Corps promised a [permit] to Hobet," company lawyers said. "Then, for no reason other than a fear of continued litigation, it revoked Hobet's authorization in clear violation of both its own regulations and [the law]."Arch Coal has said it plans to lay off most of the 400 Dal-Tex miners by July 23 if a new permit is not approved.