environmental politics-as-usual in WVa
DEP didn’t do its job, by failing to enforce the approximate original contour reclamation standard and the post-mining land development rules already on the books.
And, as I’ve written before, the state under former Gov. Cecil Underwood basically dared EPA to come in and take a closer look at valley fills when it insisted on passing a greatly weakened stream “mitigation bill.”
Today, the state is doing the same thing again, having passed the Stalling Selenium legislation, with hardly a word against it from DEP. Truth be told, this legislation is patterned after what DEP has already tried to do: Give coal operators more and more time to avoid actually complying with water pollution standards for a chemical that has pushed at least one West Virginia watershed to the “brink of a major toxic event.”
DEP’s standard line on mountaintop removal goes something like this: Sure, we made some mistakes years ago. But we’ve learned a lot and beefed up our program. We are tougher on the coal industry than any state in the country.
But you have to wonder …
If that’s true, why did it take EPA and the Justice Department to come in and fine Massey Energy $20 million for thousands of water pollution violations across the state’s southern coalfields?
Well, that’s because the folks at DEP for four or five years simply shoved “discharge monitoring reports,” or DMRs, that companies file into a drawer somewhere, not bothering to check and see if Massey and other companies were complying with their pollution permit limits.
And let’s not forget, DEP has repeatedly missed legislative deadlines to complete a study on whether coal slurry injected underground is pollution water supplies and making people sick.
Or, the fact that it took a federal court order for DEP to even consider beginning to write permits and comply with water pollution limits at the abandoned mine sites it controls under its Special Reclamation Program. DEP also proposed legislation this year that doesn’t got nearly as far as its own advisory panel said was needed to fix the finances of the Special Rec program.
And recently, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement found serious problems with the way DEP polices coal-slurry impoundments, which is one of the agency’s most important jobs.