Coal Tattoo

Flatten it … and nobody ever comes, revisited

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Gov. Joe Manchin’s proposal to rewrite the state’s law on post-mining land uses and the appropriate original contour reclamation variance for mountaintop removal mines.

I continue to be confused about the need for this legislation.

Coal operators can already develop mountaintop removal sites. They just don’t do it.

State regulators can already require such development if companies want to receive mountaintop removal permits. They just don’t do it.

But still, the state Legislature is moving forward with Manchin’s legislation, SB 375. The bill is aimed at encouraging companies to put alternative energy production facilities on mined land, but also has language that allows any company to avoid submitting its own post-mining development plan — or complying with tougher reclamation laws — if leaving the land the way it was after mining fits into a local land-use master plan.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting had a piece this morning about progress toward passage of the governor’s bill.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, praised the legislation:

Bill Raney is the president of the West Virginia Coal Association. He says there shouldn’t be any reason why coal companies wouldn’t be willing to leave post-mining land in whatever condition the county would like it.

It truly shows that mining is an interim land use. And we’re moving the dirt, and if we can tie into the alternate land use and the needs of the county, then when you move the dirt and the rocks, that’s the most expensive part of an economic development project, particularly in southern West Virginia.

But Don Garvin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, told public broadcasting’s Erica Peterson the bill is just a way for the industry to get around tough reclamation requirements.

We think it’s a feel-good bill.  It continues to try to find valid post-mining land uses for permitting mountaintop removal mining.

That’s all well and good, but the DEP nor this administration nor any other has addressed the real problem with mountaintop removal: valley fills, mass destruction of our mountains, which the environmental community feels is illegal in the first place.

The bill appears to be on the fast track: It passed the Economic Development Committee unanimously today.  “Uncharacteristically, it will bypass both Senate Finance and Judiciary Committees and will be on its first reading in the Senate on Wednesday,” Peterson reported.

More than 30 years ago, Congress demanded that companies that wanted to perform mountaintop removal have in hand plans to put factories, shopping malls, schools or other community improvements on the flattened-out mountains they left behind.

Neither federal nor state officials have ever really tried to enforce this law. Environmentalists are rightly asking: Why don’t they try that before they change the law to help the coal industry?