A gubernatorial task force is split on one of the major issues concerning mountaintop removal mining: whether the final product meets the federal "approximate original contour" reclamation requirement.
The issue may be one of the hot topics tonight, when Gov. Cecil Underwood's mountaintop removal task force holds its final public hearing.
The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Marshall University Graduate College in South Charleston.
Last week, three task force committees issued drafts of their reports on the economic, environmental, and community impact sides of mountaintop removal.
Two of the committees, environmental and economic, addressed the approximate original contour, or AOC, issue.
The 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act generally required all strip mine companies to put land back the way they found it. Under the law, land had to be reclaimed so it "closely resembles the general surface configuration" of pre-mined land.
Mountaintop removal was meant to be a limited exception. Companies could ignore AOC, and flatten out the land, but only if the flattened land was needed for development. Companies were required to submit concrete development plans to receive AOC variances.
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining, however, has never defined AOC, or drawn up any concrete standards to help states implement the rule.
State Division of Environmental Protection officials say that OSM's inaction forces them to allow mountaintop removal mines to chop hundreds of feet off hilltops and call the leveled land that results AOC.
The task force's environmental community, however, concluded there is nothing wrong with the way the AOC is currently enforced.