The illegally appointed director of the state Division of Environmental Protection, Michael Miano, says he does not want a more refined standard. He likes for his permit writers to have "discretion."
That discretion leads to wildly varying results. Mountains that coal companies claim have been returned to AOC may be 40 feet lower than before - or 340 feet lower.
It's clear that the state needs concrete guidelines from OSM.
As Patrick McGinley, an environmental-law professor at West Virginia University, said: "It's up to OSM to define and enforce what constitutes AOC. OSM is ignoring its responsibility and sidestepping the law."
Still, this draft report is a good sign that OSM is finally taking its oversight duty seriously. Mountaintop removal mining is coming under increasing scrutiny, not only from OSM, but also from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which recently agreed to impose a 60-day moratorium on valley fill permits, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, which stalled approval of a huge valley fill of Pigeonroost Branch creek.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also delaying permits and evaluating the impact of huge valley fills.
This scrutiny is long overdue. Coal companies have been decapitating West Virginia hills with virtual impunity. It's time for that to stop. State and federal regulators must enforce the law.