New regulations on mountaintop removal mining could cost the West Virginia coal industry 2,800 jobs, company lawyers told a federal judge on Thursday.Lawyers for Arch Coal Inc. subsidiaries, coal industry trade groups and large landholding companies said in court papers that permit delays would cripple mining in the state.Shane Harvey, a lawyer with the firm Jackson & Kelly, late Thursday filed the industry's response to a proposed partial settlement of a lawsuit aimed at curbing mountaintop removal.The settlement was proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.Under the settlement, federal regulators would conduct a two-year environmental impact study that could result in new, long-term regulations on mountaintop removal.In the interim, most large strip mining projects would have to receive special permits that require more regulatory scrutiny than federal and state agencies have previously required."This change comes as a complete surprise to the coal mining industry and will result in the shutdown of many operations and the termination of thousands of jobs," Harvey wrote in a 19-page brief filed with Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden.Harvey noted that Michael McCabe, regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has said the special permits could take up to two years to process.Attached to his brief, Harvey included a six-page affidavit from Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.Raney stated that he had contacted members of his group and asked them how the proposed settlement would affect their operations.Seven companies responded to the inquiry, Raney stated. Raney did not name the companies, but stated he would do so "if requested by the court."Raney stated that companies told his association that permit delays of the type McCabe has mentioned would force operating mines to close and new mines not to open.In all, Raney said the seven companies reported the permit delays would cause 2,403 current direct and contract jobs to be lost and 389 new direct and contract jobs to be lost.Harvey added in his brief that the delays would cost coal companies "millions of dollars in potentially idle capital investment" and the state millions in lost annual tax revenues and reduction in payments to coal industry vendors."The Settlement Agreement will throw off the planned sequence of many operations - resulting in unemployment, lost capital expenditures and a host of secondary harms (lost tax revenues, lost indirect employment) which accompany reduction in economic activity," Harvey wrote."A two-year delay in the permitting process will be devastating to the coal mining industry and those who depend upon it," he wrote."As surface mining operations are mining coal, they are at the same time applying for new permits to conduct their next operation," Harvey wrote. "If these new permits are not granted before the completion of mining at current operations, miners must be laid off and mining equipment must be idled until the new permits can be obtained."To ensure that this does not occur, mine operators work to ensure that permit applications will be submitted and approved in time to allow operators to proceed seamlessly from one permitted operation to the next," he wrote."In the past, companies have been able to do this - with a safe margin of error - because they knew approximately how long it would take to obtain permits for their next operation," he wrote. "The Settlement Agreement will disrupt all of this careful planning and place countless operations in jeopardy."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.