Coal Tattoo

Judge wants update on troubled mine cleanup fund

Following up on his suggestion that West Virginia officials need to “beef up” the state Department of Environmental Protection’s abandoned mine cleanup program, a federal judge has asked for a progress report on that reclamation program.

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver entered a brief order instructing the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the federal Office of Surface Mining to file by Aug. 25 a “joint status report addressing any matters impacting the disposition” of the Conservancy’s request to reopen its lawsuit against OSM over the state’s Special Reclamation program.

One interesting thing about this whole issue came up earlier today, during a meeting of the DEP’s Special Reclamation Fund Advisory Council …

Remember that the new legal settlement between DEP and environmental groups requires state officials to improve their treatment of water pollution at nearly 200 abandoned mine sites around West Virginia. But at today’s meeting, engineer John Morgan, an advisory council member, asked why DEP shouldn’t also re-examine another 350 sites to determine if the tougher requirements — pollution treatment that actually meets water quality standards — shouldn’t be a applied to those as well.

Said Morgan:

I’m just trying to be sure there’s nothing missed.

Interestingly, state and federal officials weren’t too warm to Morgan’s suggestion.

Roger Calhoun, director of OSM’s Charleston field office, for example, said his office spent the better part of a year helping DEP put together its list of special reclamation sites with water pollution problems. Calhoun conceded that examination did not consider whether water quality-based permit limits were being met, but still said:

The list that everybody sued over is the list we spent all that time putting together. I’m not real anxious to go back and revisit that.

Of course, if state and federal officials don’t account for potential water quality violations at those other sites, aren’t they just opening the special reclamation program — and OSM’s approval of it — up for more lawsuits from citizens?