The records show that six of those 11 permits did not request the required AOC variance. Those six mines would strip about 6,000 acres of land, records show.
One of the mines that did not ask for a variance, Arch Coal's application to mine 3,100 acres near Blair in Logan County, would be the largest strip mine in state history. A public hearing on that permit is scheduled for 6 p.m. today at the Sharples Elementary School.
DEP officials have said they regard mountaintop removal mines as meeting the AOC standard because OSM, the federal agency which oversees mine regulation, has not clearly defined the term.
Rahall, who served on the congressional conference committee that wrote the final version of the federal mining law in 1977, did not accept that explanation.
"Clearly, while returning land to its approximate original contour is the general rule, there is a specific exemption for mountaintop removal operations where it can be documented there would be an equal or better economic or public use of the affected land after mining," Rahall said.
"Because the state is not processing the majority of mountaintop removal operations under the AOC variance, it is in turn apparently not requiring this documentation," Rahall said. "As such, there is no assurance that these lands will be used after mining for industrial, commercial, agricultural or residential uses as the laws provide.
"This is inexcusable, and the DEP claiming it does not know exactly what AOC means is no excuse at all."
Wise said, "The law seems pretty clear that you need to get permission for a variance and you need to have a development plan approved for mountaintop removal, and mountaintop removal ought to be adhering to those standards."
Michael Miano, the new director of DEP, defended his agency.
"We will do what the law requires, and it's my understanding that's what we have been doing," Miano said Monday afternoon.
Allen D. Klein, OSM's regional director, said his office will look into the situation.
"You've uncovered some issues, and we'll look at them," Klein said. "We are looking at the data. We're going to have to go to work assessing this situation."