State DEP Settles Two Mine Suits

54 abandoned mines in area are affected

Morgantown Dominion Post
14 August 2011
By David Beard

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has forged an agreement with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and other environmental groups to address unpermitted acid drainage from 171 abandoned surface mines around the state.

The list includes 39 mines in Preston County, 14 in Monongalia and one in Marion.

Conservancy member Cindy Rank said all 171 mines were abandoned after 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act was passed.

There are actually two suits and two agreements — one for 89 northern mines filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of West Virginia, and one for 82 southern mines filed in the court’s Southern District.

The agreements are in the form of essentially identical consent decrees filed Aug. 2 in the respective courts. The decrees accompany lawsuits filed the same day. The Conservancy, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and Sierra Club are plaintiffs; DEP Secretary Randy Huffman is the defendant.

The decrees are under federal review until Sept. 22. Once the federal review is complete, the respective judges can sign off on them.

The Conservancy wants “fishable, swimmable streams,” Rank said. The new agreement is an important step to begin solving the problem. “Who will take care of it if we don’t start now? We’re passing along a giant liability to our kids and their kids.”

The agreement

When the agreement is approved, DEP will take the following actions, at its expense:

DEP spokeswoman Kathy Cosco said that once the cost reports are done, DEP will determine if its needs to raise the Special Reclamation tax. The Legislatures would have to approve any tax hike.