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Twice as many acres mined as reclaimed, report says

An area of West Virginia the size of Logan County is currently disturbed by strip mining, according to a new report from the U.S. Office of Surface Mining.

In its annual review of West Virginia's mining regulatory program, OSM said that 286,400 acres - about 450 square miles - of the state is currently disturbed by surface coal mining.

The 22-page OSM report stated that coal operators last year received permits to strip twice as many acres as they reclaimed.

During the review period from Oct. 1, 1997 to Sept. 30, 1998, the state issued 78 new surface mining permits covering 11,370 acres. About half that amount, 6,549 acres, was completely reclaimed during the same period.

The area permitted for mining was down dramatically over the previous year, from more than 20,000 acres.

The area reclaimed, however, was about the same.

Much of the new OSM report focused on the ongoing controversy over mountaintop removal mining.

OSM is currently reviewing public comments on a separate, draft oversight report on mountaintop removal.

No date for release of the final report, or proposed new rules on mountaintop removal based on the report, has been announced.

In the annual program report, OSM said, "During the review period, OSM found that some mountaintop removal operations with [approximate original contour] variances had been approved with unauthorized postmining land uses, and some documentation required for approved designated postmining land use was missing from the permit application.

"In addition, OSM found that the State's AOC policies and procedures were applied inconsistently or were too broad," the annual report said. "The State's approved program also contained language differences for mountaintop-removal and steep-slope mining operations that may have contributed to these problems and will require further attention."

The OSM annual report praised the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation's electronic permit database, called the Environmental Resources Information Network, or ERIN, and the agency's World Wide Web site.

"The site gets more than one million hits per year and was developed entirely in-house," the report said. "Through the WVDEP Web page, an individual can retrieve statistical information concerning active, abandoned, or forfeited mine sites."

The report, however, also outlined a number of longstanding issues that DEP has not found solutions for. Among them:

The DEP bonding system is not adequate to cover land reclamation. Under current projections, the bond money will not be sufficient to eliminate the backlong of unreclaimed abandoned mine sites for 10 to 20 years, without consideration of additional costs for water treatment.

DEP is overdue in satisfying OSM-required amendments to state mining laws and regulations in 26 different subject areas. "Some progress was made over the past year on issues such as subsidence control and water replacement," OSM said. "However, many issues, some several years old, are yet to be addressed."

Underground pools of acid mine water continue to threaten surface water supplies in northern West Virginia. "As a result of many decades of underground mining on the Pittsburgh coal seam, the voids left by mining have either flooded or are in the process of flooding," the OSM report said.

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.


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