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 religious groups.
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 requirements."
"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 reasonable.
"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 expected.''