SUNDAY GAZETTE-MAIL - One federal regulatory agency has blocked new mining permits in West Virginia. But another may try to back out of a confrontation with the Underwood administration over a new state law that makes it easier for coal companies to bury streams with strip mine waste.
A month ago, environmental groups threatened to sue regulators if the state did not seek approval from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining before the law is implemented.
The notice of intent to sue, filed in early May, gave state regulators 60 days to seek OSM approval of the new mine "mitigation" law.
The state Division of Environmental Protection doesn't plan to ask for OSM approval, and OSM has made no move to force the state to do so.
Privately, OSM officials have leaned toward staying out of the situation. Publicly, top OSM officials say they have not made a decision yet.
The bill in question nearly doubles the size of stream drainage areas where coal operators can put valley fills - strip mine waste piles that bury streams - without compensating the state for the loss of waterways.
Under the measure, most strip mine valley fills could be constructed without companies having to mitigate the stream loss with monetary payments or in-kind projects such as recreational ponds.
Gov. Cecil Underwood signed the bill into law on April 8.