The U.S. Office of Surface Mining said Dec. 30 that, responding to a citizen petition, it will examine the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s coal mine permitting program.
A June 2013 citizen petition asked the federal agency to either take over the state program, or recommend that the federal approval of the program be revoked. The citizens and environmental groups lodging the petition claim that the state agency does not adhere to federal policy when permitting coal mines.
After reviewing the petition’s 19 allegations, West Virginia’s response to those allegations, and other information, OSM said it has identified five areas that warrant evaluation under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
- Address potential flooding impacts in the permitting process because of ineffective implementation of its Storm Water Runoff Analysis, which is a permitting requirement;
- Issue violations on sites where Clean Water Act violations exist;
- Regulate water pollution from selenium;
- Properly define areas considered in the State’s “Cumulative Hydrologic Impact Analysis”; and
- Handle soils properly under the federal law’s mine-reclamation requirements.
“The analysis we shared with the petitioners today represents the next step in a process prescribed by the regulations that implement SMCRA,” said OSM Director Joe Pizarchik. “OSM will conduct its evaluations in a fair, transparent manner.”
If OSM’s evaluations indicate that parts of West Virginia’s program violate SMCRA, the federal agency will provide the state with opportunity to correct the identified problems. SMCRA’s regulations set out a series of steps that OSM must follow before substituting federal enforcement for all or part of the state’s program. OSM said it has already begun to evaluate one of the five areas and will initiate work on others in 2014.