WASHINGTON – Alpha Natural Resources and the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration have started negotiations to settle a suit claiming government regulators dangerously interfere with coal mine ventilation plans.

On Oct. 3, the two sides jointly asked U.S. District Judge James Boasberg to delay an initial scheduling conference from Oct. 11 to Nov. 10.

They wrote that discussions began after Boasberg found subsidiaries of the former Massey Energy sufficiently alleged the agency denied them due process.

"A continuance of the initial scheduling conference for 30 days would permit the parties a reasonable opportunity to further those discussions and to develop a sense of whether additional dialogue between the parties regarding potential settlement would be warranted," they wrote.

Massey subsidiaries sued the agency last year, after an explosion at Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 men.

According to Massey directors, the agency had rejected the company's ventilation plan and had threatened to shut down the mine if it didn't adopt the agency's plan.

The suit claimed the agency left owners a choice between putting miners out of work and installing ventilation plans that were less protective of miners.

The agency moved to dismiss, claiming Massey should contest citations through its review commission.

Boasberg denied the motion in August, after Alpha bought Massey.

"Defendants complain that plaintiffs do not plead more specific facts about individual ventilation plans that they believe MSHA negotiated unlawfully," he wrote.

"Plaintiffs ask the court not to resolve individual plan disputes, but to answer broad constitutional questions about whether the commission's review process itself affords them the process they are due under the Fifth Amendment."

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