These mountaintop removal rules, however, have been abused in West Virginia. Gazette investigations found that most mountaintop removal mines did not receive the required approximate original contour variances or propose the required post-mining developments.
A draft report by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining reached the same conclusions.
The final version of that report is now more than two months overdue. Roger Calhoun, director of the OSM field office in Charleston, said earlier this week that he does not know when it will be finished.
Arch Coal announced its new development corporation plan just one day before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's scheduled hearing on two mountaintop removal permits.
EPA has halted the two permits - including one to expand by 3,100 acres the Arch Coal Dal-Tex operation near Blair in Logan County - until the companies provide more concrete information about the mining's environmental impacts.
The hearing is scheduled to start at noon today at Southern West Virginia Community College near Logan. It was originally scheduled to run through 5 p.m., but was extended until 7 p.m. More than 1,000 people are expected.
In a news release, Arch Coal said it would donate an undetermined amount of land at its Wylo mining complex and work with local officials to create a multipurpose recreational facility. The facility will probably include baseball and softball fields, tennis courts, walking trails and other outdoor activities.
Whether such recreational facilities are allowed as a post-mining land use for mountaintop removal mines is a hotly debated issue. Companies want the land use to be permitted, but federal regulators have yet to do so.
"We believe this high, rolling terrain is ideal for a host of recreational pursuits," Leer said. "Making the land useful to the people of the region is part of our overall vision for reclaiming our mine sites, and we believe this project will help make that vision a reality."