Feds to Probe Five Aspects of W.Va. Mining Oversight
30 December 2013
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A federal agency said Monday that it will
examine five aspects of West Virginia's regulation of surface coal
mining in response to a petition by 18 environmental, civic and
The state and national groups -- including the Sierra Club, the
League of Women Voters and Catholic Committee of Appalachia --
claimed in a petition last June that the West Virginia Department
of Environmental Protection has shown "callous disregard'' for
both the environment and federal law. They cited chronic failures
in oversight, from permitting to inspection, and fines that are
too small to deter violations.
The organizations lodged 19 allegations and asked the U.S. Office
of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to investigate and
temporarily take over the regulatory program the state runs under
the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
In a letter, the federal agency told the groups that it dismissed
14 allegations but determined the other five warrant further
investigation. Regulations prohibit the federal takeover sought by
the petitioners without further evaluation, the agency said.
In a news release, OSM said that in some of the 14 allegations
dismissed, "OSM found that the issue being raised is outside OSM's
purview; in others, the petitioners did not provide sufficient
evidence to support the allegations, or misinterpreted program
"The analysis we shared with the petitioners today represents the
next step in a process prescribed by the regulations,'' said Joe
Pizarchik, the agency's director.
West Virginia regulators said the federal agency's response was
"Most of the petitioners' claims were rightly dismissed by OSM,''
DEP officials said in a written statement. "The remaining five
issues OSM chose to review appropriately fall into the annual
review of specific program areas they evaluate every year. Claims
to take over the program or revoke federal approval are
unwarranted and today's response from OSM was appropriate and
The areas the federal agency will examine involve storm water
runoff analysis, citations for Clean Water Act violations,
regulation of water pollution from selenium, flooding caused by
runoff, and soil handling.
The agency said some of the dismissed allegations raised issues
outside its purview while others were not supported by evidence or
were based on a misinterpretation of program requirements.
James G. Murphy, attorney for the National Wildlife Federation and
one of two recipients of the letter, said he was generally pleased
with the response.
"Some of the claims they are looking at are the biggest faults
with the program and some of the most glaring ones,'' he said.
"It's a very positive step forward. If they do it expeditiously
and correctly it will lead to better oversight of some of the
pretty egregious practices that are occurring in West Virginia.
The petitioners claimed that while DEP has cited at least 6,300
violations of the federal surface mining law since 2006, many more
violations have been ignored or unenforced. They noted that huge
swaths of southern West Virginia have been permanently scarred and
tens of thousands of additional acres are at risk.
"The situation could not be more dire, nor the stakes higher,''
the petition said.
It also claimed DEP regularly issues or renews permits even when
operators have uncorrected violations, allows companies to begin
mining after permits have expired and fails to conduct monthly
unannounced inspections of mine sites required by law.
The groups that asked the feds to take over state mining
enforcement include Appalachian Catholic Worker; Appalachian
Voices; the Catholic Committee of Appalachia; the Center for
Biological Diversity; the Center for Health, Environment and
Justice; Christians for the Mountains; Coal River Mountain Watch;
Earthjustice; the Keeper of the Mountains Foundation; the League
of Women Voters of West Virginia; the Mountain Health and Heritage
Association; the National Wildlife Federation; the Ohio Valley
Environmental Coalition; the Sierra Club; the West Virginia
Citizen Action; the West Virginia Environmental Council; the West
Virginia Highlands Conservancy; and the West Virginia Rivers