Citizens, activists and representatives of various coalfield environmental groups are gathering right now, just down the street, outside the Charleston field office of the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. They plan to rally there, and then march down to the state Capitol to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office. The media advisory says the groups are launching what they’re calling the “CARE Campaign,” which stands for “Citizen Action for Real Enforcement,” an effort to hold government agencies accountable “for their failure to respect citizens’ rights.” The media advisory explains:
Citizens have a right to expect protection by their government. West Virginia is failing to protect its citizens from chronic pollution, environmental degradation, human suffering and costs resulting from inadequate regulation of coal extraction by state government.
Decades of citizen efforts have not resulted in sufficient improvements to state government’s enforcement of mining laws, particularly around the devastating consequences for West Virginia communities of unenforced regulations for surface mining.
Today’s events are being held to call attention to this new petition, filed under Part 733 of the federal strip-mining regulations, urging that OSMRE take over regulation of coal mining in West Virginia. The petition alleges that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection has “consistently and systematically failed to comply with SMCRA mandates intended to protect the State‘s residents and natural resources.” It notes:
While mining operations in West Virginia have been cited for at least 6,301 SMCRA violations since 2006, many more violations have been ignored and unenforced. West Virginia has failed to take action to address the systematic problems evidenced by these violations. These failures can no longer be tolerated. After thirty years of failure, it is past time for OSM to assume control of SMCRA permitting, implementation, and enforcement in West Virginia.
The petition says:
The situation could not be more dire nor the stakes higher. In particular, since mountaintop removal mining has become common, West Virginia‘s failure to properly enforce its approved State program has enabled coal operators to use destructive mining practices that have devastated significant areas of its diverse, mountainous, and productive landscape. Forested mountain ridges and valleys have been flattened into moonscapes incapable of supporting any meaningful use or vegetation. Mountain streams have been permanently buried beneath the rubble of what were once mountaintops. Waters have been contaminated for generations to come.
These mining activities have caused communities and downstream areas to be subjected to increased flooding risks. Complete upstream watersheds have been rendered incapable of maintaining proper hydrological function. A huge portion of southern West Virginia has been permanently scarred by inadequately regulated mining and tens of thousands of additional acres are currently under permit or slated for permitting that would cause widespread additional significant harm to communities and their environment. Unless West Virginia‘s current illegal and ineffective implementation of SMCRA ceases and lawful administration and enforcement of SMCRA occurs, West Virginia‘s land, waters and wildlife will be either lost or permanently scarred and many communities will suffer the adverse economic, social and environmental impacts that SMCRA was specifically designed to prevent. This is unacceptable. OSM must act now.
Among the specific allegations are that WVDEP:
— Issues permits and renews existing permits to mine operators with unabated previous violations;
— Continues to have chronic problems with understaffing;
— Fails to conduct mandatory inspections;
— Does not take appropriate enforcement actions, issuing inadequate fines and seldom taking tougher actions such as show-cause orders;
The petition concludes:
Over the years, WVDEP‘s record of placing the interests of the coal industry above human health and the environment has had devastating impacts for the communities of West Virginia‘s coal fields.