West Virginia Sen. Robert C. Byrd urged the federal government's lead environmental regulator on Monday to work with the mining industry and others to clarify how coal mines get permits.
The state's senior senator asked that EPA work "in conjunction with other regulatory agencies, the coal industry, and unions to develop a clear set of parameters for issuing mining permits," Byrd's office said. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said her agency would provide clarity in the near future.
It's the second time the two have talked in Byrd's office. Jackson asked for the meeting, and Byrd's office described the conversation as "friendly and candid."
Also, Gov. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., traveled to a Consol Energy mine where nearly 500 workers have been told they will be laid off on Feb. 7 because of a federal court ruling that suspended a permit.
"What we're going through is a process," Rahall said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's much like laws and sausage, it's pretty ugly."
The southern West Virginia congressman said a process needs to be developed so "we don't have the continued litigation and court decisions that have been guiding permitting these many, many years."
The EPA has been taking a closer look at mining permits that use valley fills to dispose of excess rock and dirt from the surface mine. EPA contends the fills may violate the federal Clean Water Act. The fills are used in a mining process called mountaintop removal, where ridges are blown apart to expose coal seams.
In September, EPA said it wanted to hold up 79 permits in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio and Tennessee for additional scrutiny. The combination of increased regulatory review and recent court rulings have increased tensions in West Virginia's coalfields.
Earlier this month, Byrd issued a statement saying the coal industry wasn't helping its cause by attacking opponents and sowing fear in the Appalachian coalfields.
Both Byrd and Jackson said ongoing talks to resolve the issues must be civil if a solution is to be reached.