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UMW hopes to resolve mountaintop dispute

United Mine Workers lawyers hope to work out a resolution that will give Arch Coal Inc. its permit, protect the jobs of more than 300 UMW members, and lessen the environmental impacts of the largest mountaintop removal permit in state history.

The UMW wants Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II to let the union intervene in a federal court lawsuit over mountaintop removal. The judge has not ruled on the request.

In court papers, the union's lawyers say that a 2-week-old preliminary injunction order from Haden "leaves some areas of potential resolution."

Haden issued an order March 3 that blocks new permits for Arch Coal Inc.'s Dal-Tex complex in Logan County until a full trial scheduled for September. Less than a week after Haden's order, Arch Coal announced it would close Dal-Tex, and lay off more than 300 workers by August.

Four days later, the UMW filed a motion to intervene in the case.

Public statements indicate the union's main interest was to convince Haden to move up the date for the trial. Court papers show the union also wants to try to work out a compromise over the mining techniques proposed by Arch Coal.

In a news release, UMW President Cecil Roberts said, "We need to be a part of any legal proceedings on this matter, which involves the livelihoods of hundreds of UMWA members and their families.

"We're urging the court to shorten the freeze on permits," Roberts said. "During that shortened period, preliminary development of the mining site should continue.

"Such a solution would allow miners to continue working while the economic and environmental issues of this matter are resolved," he said.

In legal motions filed March 12, the UMW lawyers said, "Consistent with [the UMW's] previously stated policies of advancing both the jobs of its members and historic environmental concerns of the West Virginia community, the UMWA will add to the potential alternatives by exploring those alternatives which protect the jobs of its members consistent with reasonable enforcement of the statutes in question.

"There may be legitimate good faith differences between the parties, including the employer and the union, as to the mining techniques which could be used to develop the reserve economically and consistent with the relevant environmental laws," the UMW's motion said.

UMW chief lawyer Grant Crandall declined comment, as did Joe Lovett, lawyer for the environmentalists who challenged the Arch Coal permit.

Deck Slone, a media spokesman for St. Louis-based Arch Coal, said the company thinks its proposal is the only way to make money mining the Dal-Tex site.

"We have investigated all other approaches for mining the reserves and we are convinced that mountaintop mining methods are the only economically viable way to mine the reserves at Spruce Fork," Slone said.

In his preliminary injunction order, Haden said that Dal-Tex general manager Mark White, during testimony in court, "averred that mining using mountaintop removal methods was the only economically feasible option for the site because of the depth and placement of the coal seams.

"Nevertheless, he also acknowledged that Spruce Fork could be mined with shovel and truck operations" instead of a dragline, "but at a much greater cost," Haden wrote in his 47-page ruling.

In asking to intervene in the case, the UMW argued that the union and its members cannot be adequately represented by the existing parties - including the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Arch Coal subsidiaries, and various government agencies.

"It is unlikely that the interests of Hobet and its employees represented by the UMW will coincide on the broad issues remaining, and it is just as likely that the UMWA's interests with regard to the issues remaining as to the [Arch Coal] permit may be more flexible and pragmatic than the position of the environmentalists plaintiffs," the UMW said.

"The state position of the UMWA has been to protect both jobs and communities so that when coal mining is over, what remains has been disturbed as little as possible and the community remains intact."

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.


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