By Dan Heyman
Citizen groups hope they can get federal surface mine officials to address residents’ complaints they say West Virginia officials ignore. Last week, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement said it would investigate five aspects of state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) mining regulation. That came in response to a petition by 19 groups, including the League of Women Voters and the Catholic Committee of Appalachia.
Johanna de Graffenreid, Citizen Action for Real Enforcement, is coordinating that coalition. She said DEP routinely ignores citizen complaints about surface mines.
“They have been almost completely consumed by the interests of the coal industry. And that’s why we have such a broad-based coalition in support of West Virginia citizens’ rights to be protected from the West Virginia coal industry,” de Graffenreid said.
Technical analyst Rob Goodwin, Coal River Mountain Watch, helps file citizen complaints about property damage and health impacts from surface mining. He said DEP gets and routinely dismisses hundreds of the complaints a year, often from people living near huge mountaintop-removal operations.
“Wells drying up or being contaminated. Cracks to the ceilings of their homes and their foundations. Ninety-nine percent, if not all, being dismissed as frivolous or unsubstantiated,” Goodwin said.
Going over DEP to the governor’s office means hitting a brick wall, Goodwin added. De Graffenreid said they would like to see federal surface mine officials completely take over the lead role of regulating the mines. When DEP is not doing its job on issues such as flooding, residents are endangered, she warned.
“The West Virginia DEP currently is failing to address potential flooding impacts, especially with storm water run-off. We’ve seen this over and over again, where citizens make consistent complaints and the West Virginia DEP determines that they are not warranted,” she said.
The industry said it is over-regulated. The state DEP described OSM’s investigation as part of a normal annual review. Neither statement is accurate, according to de Graffenreid.