Environmental groups sue WV state agency over alleged mismanagement of coal mine clean-up fund

CHARLESTON, WV  — Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice are representing the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), and the Sierra Club in filing a notice of intent to sue the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) for its mismanagement of the Special Reclamation Fund (SRF), and its related failure to comply with federal reporting requirements. The SRF was established to reclaim and clean up recently abandoned coal mines.

 

Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), state regulators must notify the Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) if any significant changes in funding or budgeting for the fund were to affect the implementation, administration, or enforcement of the state-approved programs. The WVDEP has failed to notify OSMRE of a significant change in West Virginia’s SRF, namely that West Virginia now considers the SRF to be dramatically underfunded and unable to carry out its purpose of covering the costs of coal mine reclamation. This reporting requirement was triggered in March when WVDEP stated during their attempt to force ERP Environmental Fund into receivership that assuming responsibility for cleaning up more than 100 permits would financially and administratively overwhelm the fund.

 

WVDEP’s recent statements blatantly conflict with a report the department published in February, only a month before the ERP proceedings. The Special Reclamation Fund Advisory Council Report recommended no changes to the tax that financially supports the fund and stated multiple times that the SRF would be financially sound and solvent through the year 2039.

 

Karan Ireland, West Virginia Sierra Club’s Senior Campaign Representative, released the following statement:

“It’s astounding that despite the department’s assurances to the contrary, the fund is dangerously underfunded and financially incapable of fulfilling the fund’s purpose of financing coal mine reclamation. The WVDEP must comply with the requirements of the law and notify OSMRE of this significant change in the fund’s budget and financial well-being. It’s critical that OSMRE is able to determine if an amendment to West Virginia’s program is needed to ensure that these abandoned coal mines are properly handled in a way that protects West Virginia’s environmental and public health.”

 

Vivian Stockman, OVEC’s Executive Director, released the following statement:

“Either the SRF Advisory Board was badly misinformed or it intentionally misinformed the public. Either way, it is clear that the WVDEP is out of compliance with federal law and the SRF is inadequate to clean up the mess the coal industry leaves behind. It’s a shame West Virginia residents once again have to head to the courts to remind the agency that the “Protection” part of its name does not apply to coal companies, but rather to the environment and the people whose health depends on environmental protection.”

 

Cindy Rank, Chair, WVHC Extractive Industries Committee:

 

“The solvency of West Virginia’s alternative bonding system has been in doubt since its inception in the early 1980s. Year after year as liabilities increased, WVDEP bumbled and stumbled in a morass of excuses and tweaks to the program. In recent years the specially appointed Advisory Council has merely come up with more sophisticated ways of painting a dangerously inaccurate picture of the financial health of the bond fund.  WVDEP’s current legal action against the ERP mining company should be the last straw.”