NONE of the government watchdogs who are supposed to be protecting West Virginia and its people from environmental ravages are doing a stand-up job when it comes to mountaintop removal mining.
The state Division of Environmental Protection is permitting huge decapitation mines without the proper variances that are supposed to ensure that "restored" land will be put to better use if it is not brought back to its "approximate original contour," as federal law requires.
In fact, reporter Ken Ward Jr. found that three-fourths of the state's mountaintop removal operations - 61 of 81 - were not granted the required exemption, in violation of U.S. law.
But the federal Office of Surface Mining isn't doing its job either, which is to ensure that state permitters follow the rules. In a recent discussion, local OSM officials admitted they hadn't been examining state permits.
In fact, that discussion left the disturbing impression that reporter Ward knew more about how state regulators were operating than the federal regulators who are supposed to be watching over them.
The law says permits mustn't be issued until the cumulative impact of the mining and reclamation on water quality and availability is known. That's not being done. No one knows what impact the huge valley fills that mountaintop removal mining creates will have on water quality. Regulators have admitted this.
But permits keep getting issued, making West Virginia one big experiment. If the consequences are bad, it is the people who will suffer, not the huge out-of-state coal corporations that make millions of dollars from the coal.
Rep. Nick Rahall called the regulators' action (and inaction) "inexcusable."