CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Eighteen groups are urging the Obama administration to take over enforcement of strip-mining rules in West Virginia, saying state regulators have for years failed to properly police the coal industry.
The groups filed a formal petition asking the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to step in, citing what they said are longstanding problems at the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In a 102-page petition, the groups -- ranging from the Sierra Club to the League of Women Voters -- allege that the DEP has not completed required inspections, not fixed chronic staffing shortages, issued and renewed permits for operators with unabated violations, and not taken tough enough enforcement actions to end environmental violations.
"These failures can no longer be tolerated," says the petition, signed by National Wildlife Federation lawyers and Joe Childers, a Kentucky attorney who was considered by President Obama as a possible OSM director.
The petition is the latest action in the continuing campaign by citizens, environmental organizations and public interest groups to try to end mountaintop removal mining and otherwise more strictly regulate the Appalachian coal industry.
About a dozen representatives of the groups gathered Monday morning outside the OSM's Charleston office to deliver the petition and hold a news conference calling on federal officials to act.
"West Virginia is a wholly owned subsidiary of the coal industry, and as long as that's the case, West Virginia will not comply with federal laws to protect the environment," said author and activist Denise Giardina, who joined in the event.
Two State Police troopers and a Capitol security officer monitored the event from a church parking lot across the street from the OSM office, and a larger contingent of police was waiting on the group when it marched to the Capitol intending to deliver a copy of the petition to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
Under the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, states are allowed to regulate strip mining within their borders. The OSM, part of the Interior Department, sets minimum standards and is charged with ensuring states are doing a good job or taking over the job if they're not.
Congress also allowed citizens to petition the OSM to review particular problems with state regulatory agencies and to ask federal officials to step in to correct lax state enforcement.