On Friday, a federal judge will quiz lawyers for the coal industry, the state and citizens groups about a proposed settlement of a lawsuit over mountaintop removal mining.Chief U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden on Tuesday scheduled the 10:30 a.m. hearing, to be held at the federal courthouse in Charleston.On Monday, lawyers for the state Division of Environmental Protection and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy filed a proposed consent decree with Haden.The settlement requires DEP, for the first time, to enforce federal rules that require companies to rebuild more of the mountains they tear down to reach coal seams.
It also requires DEP to make companies start filing post-mining development plans for mountaintop removal sites.Under the settlement, low-income coalfield residents would be able to receive free land from coal companies under a new "homesteading" post-mining land use.A technical review committee will be formed to monitor permitting, and Haden will retain authority to enforce the settlement.Lawyers for DEP, the conservancy and the coal industry asked Haden to approve the consent decree. DEP also plans a public comment period on the agreement.The lawyers also asked Haden to cancel a trial, scheduled to start Monday. The judge was requested to settle one remaining issue - whether a 100-foot stream buffer zone prohibits valley fills - based on written legal briefs.In a two-page order filed Tuesday afternoon, Haden told lawyers for all sides to appear in person at the hearing on Friday."Among the questions the parties should be prepared to address are the following: 1) how does the proposed Consent Decree affect the Court's jurisdiction and enforcement power; 2) which parties agree to be bound, and which parties claim not to be bound, by the proposed Consent Decree; and 3) any other issues the parties deem important for the Court's consideration," Haden wrote.Haden ordered the lawyers to submit written answers to his questions by noon Thursday.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702 or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.