A draft report issued in December 1998 found that "the yearly trend has been downward, with collections falling to $1.1 million during both the 1995-1996 and 1996-97 years.
"This level is not expected to change significantly in the future," the report said.
In 1990, OSM predicted a different trend.
That year's OSM annual report on the state program said that, on March 13, 1990, "the state issued a policy prohibiting issuance of permits or permit related approvals to any applicant who has delinquent civil penalties.
"This new policy is expected to aid the state in its civil penalty collection efforts," OSM said.
Ed Griffith, an assistant chief with the DEP Office of Mining and Reclamation, said fine collection efforts are frustrated by the large number of coal companies that go bankrupt while owing the state money. "When that happens, there's just no where to go to get the money," Griffith said.
Bill Adams, chief of the DEP office of Legal Services which is supposed to try to collect the fines, did not return a phone call last week.
A 1995 OSM report praised the state for improving its debt collections.
"The collection of civil penalties by the WVDEP was significantly boosted by the addition of delinquent civil penalties into the [Applicant Violator System] as permit blocks," the report said.
"Another initiative West Virginia has taken to spur the collection of civil penalties is the referral of all delinquent debt to a collection agency."
In the last three years, the total amount of uncollected civil penalties has grown by $7.4 million, according to DEP records.
Through June 10, the agency has collected 10 percent of the civil penalties issued in 1999.
Rank said DEP needs to get better at collecting penalties, and at denying permits to coal companies that violate mining laws and then go out of business.
"It's deplorable that 78 percent of the civil penalties that are assessed are not collected," Rank said. "It's just beyond imagination that, with such a chunk of money at stake, they can't follow up on this better.
"They have to look closer, and if these people aren't reputable enough to run these operations, they should not be granting permits to people who will walk away from these operations."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702, or e-mail kw...@wvgazette.com.