Last week the Appalachian Regional Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM) notified citizens’ groups that the agency had assembled a team of experts to review a recently filed legal petition on the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) failures to enforce mining law.
On June 24, a coalition of civic, environmental and faith groups filed the petition under a provision of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act that allows citizens to request that the federal government intervene if states aren’t following their own approved regulatory plans, or if they aren’t complying with federal law.
Under that provision, OSM has 60 days to determine whether to initiate a formal evaluation of a state regulatory program. That deadline passed on Friday (August 23); however, in a letter dated August 19, OSM stated, “Because of the detailed and comprehensive nature of the petition and the OSM’s interest in conducting a thorough and complete evaluation of all of the data and issues presented, the response to your petition will not be completed within 60 days.”
“We’re glad that the OSM has taken us seriously enough to assemble a team to examine our detailed and comprehensive petition,” said Coal River Mountain Watch Executive Director Vernon Haltom. “However, each day that goes by means more environmental degradation and less accountability for the industry. We’re determined that this not become an endless process. We urge the OSM to act with urgency, because our health, communities and mountains suffer every day that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection fails to do its job.”
Lawyers representing the 18-member Citizen Action for Real Enforcement (CARE) coalition that filed the petition have contacted OSM to ask when they anticipate completing their review. The OSM has yet to respond.
The 100-page petition details a litany of problems with the state regulatory program including granting and renewing mining permits illegally, systemic failures to properly assess the risks of flooding from mine sites, drastic understaffing, and failure to assess meaningful penalties for violations of the law.