US enters settlement talks over coal mines in West

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) – Federal judges have suspended lawsuits that challenged coal mining projects in Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico after government attorneys asked for time to negotiate potential settlements.

The judges’ rulings give the U.S. Justice Department until April 1 to negotiate with New Mexico-based environmental group WildEarth Guardians.

The sides also are seeking to settle a lawsuit involving coal lease in Utah.

WildEarth Guardians prevailed in similar cases against coal mines in Montana and Colorado. The group did not stop mining but forced the government to re-analyze its environmental impacts.

The move to settle the group’s remaining lawsuits comes after Interior Secretary Sally Jewell last month blocked new sales of taxpayer-owned coal reserves.

Jewell wants to review the program’s contribution to climate change and whether mining companies are paying a fair price.

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