"This is not a case of whether you are for or against mountaintop removal operations," Rahall said of the lack of variances on many permits. "This is a matter of whether or not there has been compliance with federal law as it relates to how permits for these types of operations are reviewed and granted."
The lack of variances is important, not just a technical issue. The law says that the variances can be issued only if coal companies document that the land will be put to equal or better economic or public use after the mountaintop is leveled and the "spoil" is dumped in nearby valleys.
By skipping the variances, state regulators also fail to require the documentation, meaning that companies aren't required to have plans for the land after the coal is gone.
Ward's story prompted a delay in a permit for a huge new A.T. Massey strip mine, and spurred one OSM official to promise to look into the situation.
But Roger Calhoun, director of OSM's Charleston office, doesn't inspire much confidence. "This is not the biggest environmental issue in the state," Calhoun said. "I have other things to do."
Well, his office allowed 61 West Virginia mountains to be decapitated in violation of federal law. What "other things" are more important than enforcing this law?
Sounds like Calhoun and other state and federal regulators need to get their priorities straight. Perhaps a pending lawsuit and pressure from West Virginia's congressional delegation will remind Calhoun of his obligations.