In West Virginia, citizen pressure in 2000 prompted the DEP and the OSM to come up with federal funding to help hire more strip-mine inspectors and in 2001 -- pushed by a citizen lawsuit -- the DEP beefed up its abandoned mine cleanup division to avoid a potential OSM takeover of that program.
Still, the OSM continues to cite what it says are staffing problems at the DEP, and citizen groups continue to argue that the state's program is inadequate to clean up mine sites abandoned by operators since the 1977 law was passed.
Roger Calhoun, director of the OSM's Charleston office, referred questions about the new petition to an agency spokesman in Washington, D.C.
"OSM appreciates and takes seriously the concerns of all citizens living and working in coalfield communities," said that OSM spokesman, Christopher Holmes.
"We have discovered that often the most qualified people to report on a potential problem are the ones who are closest to them, and that is the basis of our system of handling citizen complaints," Holmes said. "We have not had the opportunity to look at the specifics of the petition filed today, but we assure everyone that we will examine all of their concerns and handle them in a manner appropriate to the Surface Mining Act."
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman said he and his staff are just now beginning to review the petition, but that he does not believe there is evidence to support a federal takeover of the state program.
"I respect the process," Huffman said. "I'm all about the American way, and this petition is a legitimate process for dealing with situations where you do not agree with how the state's doing its job. But obviously I disagree with the whole concept that it's necessary to take this kind of actions."
Huffman acknowledged that the OSM continues to raise questions about whether the DEP has adequate staffing but said that mining practices and regulation of the industry have improved greatly since the federal law was passed.
"It's not fair to not acknowledge the progress that society has made," Huffman said. "I don't think that overall the evidence is compelling that we're getting worse."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.