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Senator: Investigate state’s role in gas royalties lawsuit

A Democratic state senator is calling for an investigation into what he termed the “outrageous” revelation that a state lawyer appears to have been boosting the defense against landowners who claim they have been shortchanged on natural gas royalties.

In the federal litigation, coalfield property owners claim big coal companies owe millions in unpaid natural gas royalties. A recent ruling by a U.S. magistrate judge brought to light a number of emails from a state lawyer encouraging and assisting lawyers for the coal companies.

The state is ostensibly neutral in the underlying conflict. The state’s official involvement is only to defend the constitutionality of a state law allowing extraction of methane gas from coal.

Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, said he will ask the state Inspector General to investigate the conduct of the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in the case to determine whether any laws or ethics rules have been broken.

Cuccinelli released a statement saying his office has worked with both sides in the case in its limited role of defending the state law.

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