Flattened land is certainly not essential for fish and wildlife habitat. If anything, the reclaimed land is less suitable.
Charleston lawyer Joe Lovett, opposing the new designation on behalf of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, wrote: "It is clear that a post-mining land use must be a socially beneficial, well-planned development that uses land in a higher and better way than it was used before mining took place."
Sadly, few of the active decapitation mines in West Virginia have such uses in the works, despite coal industry promises of a "field of dreams."
Even though it has yet to be approved by OSM, "fish and wildlife habitat" was the most common land use listed in permits that Ward examined. This reflects badly both on the state Division of Environmental Protection and on federal agencies that have been doing a shoddy job of overseeing state regulators.
In passing the 1977 law, Congress intended to allow the destruction of mountaintop removal mining only as part of a social compact in which coal companies left something better behind for communities.
The corporations aren't living up to the bargain, and until now, state and federal regulators have let them get away with it.
OSM would be taking a step in the right direction by refusing this change, and demanding that the state change all permits that received this designation.
"Fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands" is not a "higher and better" use of the land. Any fool can see that.