In September 2000, federal regulators gave West Virginia officials one last chance to fix the state's strip mine bonding program.
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining warned the state Department of Environmental Protection to come up with a solution during the 2001 legislative session.
"Because of the seriousness of this issue, please be advised that we will be carefully monitoring your progress in achieving such resolution," Al Klein, the OSM regional director, told the state at the time.
Under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, states are allowed to regulate their own mining industries. OSM is supposed to make sure that they do a good job.
In West Virginia, the state has never forced coal operators to post bonds of enough money to actually reclaim their mine sites if the companies abandon them. The state Legislature has also refused to increase a 3-cents-per-ton coal tax to help reduce the fund's financial problems.
OSM has repeatedly told the state to fix the bonding system to provide enough money. The state hasn't done so, and OSM has done little about it.
In a September 2000 letter, Klein gave the state a deadline of 30 days after the end of the legislation session.
The 2001 legislative session came and went. It ended April 14.
During the session, lawmakers shot down a Wise administration proposal to lift a $5,000-per-acre cap on strip mine bonds. Coal industry officials opposed the legislation.
On April 18, DEP Secretary Michael Callaghan asked OSM for more time.
Two weeks ago, acting OSM Director Glenda Owens responded to Callaghan's request.
In a letter, Owens said that, "Because of the lengthy history of these problems and lack of success of earlier resolution efforts, we cannot grant your request for an extension." However, a closer look at Owens' action shows that OSM gave Callaghan and the state exactly what they wanted, and maybe even more.
In his April 18 request for more time, Callaghan said that DEP would put together proposed changes in state law and regulations by sometime in July 2001.
In her June 30 letter to Callaghan, Owens gave the state until July 27 to submit these proposals to the Joint Legislative Rulemaking Review Committee.
When he asked for more time, Callaghan did not say when the proposals would be acted on by the Legislature and by Gov. Bob Wise.
But Callaghan floated the idea that Wise would call lawmakers into a special session later this year to address the bonding issue.