Coal Tattoo

Judge to lawmakers: ‘Beef up” WVDEP

I’m just back from a status conference where U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver heard from citizen groups, state officials and the federal government regarding the status of West Virginia’s Special Reclamation Fund — the WVDEP program meant to clean up coal-mine sites abandoned since 1977.

Judge Copenhaver didn’t rule on any issues in either of the matters before him, but he did strongly suggest that the West Virginia Legislature needs to “beef up the DEP” so that the agency can move more quickly in cleaning up these abandoned mining operations. The judge said:

I’m fearful that we’ll find out that even this schedule won’t be met and even this will be delayed.

The judge was talking about the schedule included as part of a settlement between WVDEP and the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, in which the state agrees to improve water pollution treatment at dozens of abandoned sites around the state.

Judge Copenhaver is considering whether to approve that settlement, and also is considering a separate legal effort by the Highlands Conservancy to force the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to take over West Virginia’s special reclamation program.

We’ll have more on this in tomorrow’s Saturday Gazette-Mail.