For example, a few years ago, a reporter asked Halstead how many surface mine operators proposed to reclaim their sites to the forests that were there before.
DEP didn't keep that information in its computer. Field office staff had to review individual permits, in paper files, to figure out the answer.
After that exercise, Halstead asked that post-mining land use information be added to the computer permit database. It was, but many permit reviewers still don't type it in when they receive new applications, and land use information for old permits might never be added to the computer database.
"Databases, no matter whether you are The Charleston Gazette or DEP, aren't perfect," Halstead said. "We're just entering the computer age, and that stuff takes time and cash."
The DEP mining office headquarters is also known for having one of the best public file-review libraries in state government.
Formal Freedom of Information Act requests aren't necessary. Citizens can walk in off the street and review files (provided, under new rules instituted by DEP Director Michael Miano, that they sign in and wear a visitor badge). David Gay, who runs the file room, can recite permit numbers for just about any mine in the state.
Still, the file library research method is far from perfect.
Reviewing hundreds - let alone thousands - of surface mining permits to understand trends in post-mining land uses, reclamation variances, or environmental restrictions is practically impossible.
Even if one had the time and energy to do it, the paper permit files are far from complete.
Until two years ago, the DEP's standard surface mining permit application didn't contain a spot to note whether the mine received an approximate original contour variance. Older permits often don't contain that information, and many don't even have maps or cross-sections that clearly explain the approved mining plan.
Roger Calhoun, director of the Charleston field office of the U.S. Office of Surface mining, said there's not much he can do to make DEP beef up its record-keeping.
"OSM doesn't have many reporting requirements," Calhoun said. In fact, OSM and other federal agencies are going in the opposite direction - requiring less information be reported, filed, and studied.