Leshy got involved in the issue at the behest of Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va. Rahall was unhappy with OSM's handling of mountaintop removal, and wanted Leshy to make sure OSM was doing its job.
Rahall asked Leshy to investigate after Karpan said in early May that not all mountaintop removal mines should have to receive approximate original contour variances required by the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.
At the time, Rahall said Karpan's statement "is a startling concept, coming from the agency charged with enforcing the surface mining act.
"We have brought these matters to the attention of the Solicitor of the Department of Interior for his review," Rahall said. "In particular, we wanted the solicitor to be aware of OSM's assertion that not all mining that takes off the top of a mountain is mountaintop removal."
In a May 18 letter to Rahall aide Jim Zoia, Leshy wrote: "These issues are complex, and addressing them may require, to some extent, case by case review, as well as considering the interplay of a number of different regulatory statutes.
"I can assure you these issues now have my personal attention, and my office will be working closely with OSM ... in the coming months to assure full compliance with all applicable laws," Leshy wrote.
Leshy did not return repeated phone calls last week.
White said that OSM is working with Leshy to make sure any legal conclusions in the report are consistent with the legal opinions of the solicitor's office.
"If we have this oversight report with conclusions and recommendations, and we take a position on approximate original contour, and the solicitor is on a different track, timewise or opinion-wise ... so then we get the two together - the director and the solicitor's office - to review this," White said.
Last week, White also revealed that OSM plans to put the mountaintop removal report out for a public comment period that could last several weeks.
OSM, however, decided at least three weeks ago to have the public comment period.
"Mountaintop removal operations and associated issues extend beyond West Virginia," Karpan wrote in an Aug. 20 letter to Rahall.
"Therefore, I will distribute the study report to all interested parties for review and comment," she wrote. "After reviewing the comments received, we will develop an action plan to address the issues arising from the study and to develop any necessary changes in the state or federal regulatory programs."
White said Karpan was concerned that some conclusions in the report would affect mining in other states, particularly Kentucky. She said OSM hopes to receive public comments from those states before making any final decisions on regulatory changes.
Meanwhile, the publication and wording of the draft report have drawn coal industry complaints.
In an Aug. 24 letter to Roger Calhoun, director of the OSM Charleston field office, the West Virginia Coal Association complained about a Sunday Gazette-Mail story detailing the contents of a draft of the report.
Bill Raney, the association's president, said the draft report appeared to be an early - and improper - OSM decision on whether fish and wildlife habitat reclamation should be allowed for mountaintop removal.
The public comment period on the report could be aimed at avoiding a lawsuit charging that OSM violated rules that require public input on such decisions.