OSMRE’S Analysis and Determination of June 2013 West Virginia 733 Petition
December 30, 2013
On June 24, 2013, 18 environmental, civic, and religious groups filed a formal petition with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE), asking the bureau to review aspects of West Virginia’s surface coal mining regulatory program.
The list of petitioners includes: Appalachian Catholic Worker; Appalachian Voices; Catholic Committee of Appalachia; Center for Biological Diversity; Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Christians for the Mountains; Coal River Mountain Watch; Earthjustice; Keeper of the Mountains Foundation; League of Women Voters of West Virginia; Mountain Health and Heritage Association; National Wildlife Federation; Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition; Sierra Club; West Virginia Citizen Action; West Virginia Environmental Council; West Virginia Highlands Conservancy; and West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
The 102-page petition alleges that the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) has “not completed required inspections, not fixed chronic staffing shortages, issued and renewed permits for operators with unabated violations, and not taken tough enough enforcement actions to end environmental violations,” among other things.
The petitioners believe that OSMRE’s review will cause the bureau to substitute Federal enforcement in place of the State’s program or recommend that the Secretary of the Interior withdraw the entire or portions of the program.
In its response, OSMRE discusses that the process provided under the Federal regulations require OSMRE to verify and then potentially evaluate the allegations set forth in the petition before commencing actions to take over the program. If, after verifying the petition’s allegations, the bureau determines that a formal evaluation should be performed, OSMRE would conduct an in-depth evaluation of the allegation. This petition has led the bureau to conclude that five of the 19 allegations warrant an evaluation to determine whether West Virginia is not effectively administering its surface mining program.
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) and its implementing regulations establish the procedure for OSMRE’s handling of a request to evaluate a State program.
If, after review, OSMRE has reason to believe a State is inadequately carrying out all or part of its program, OSMRE must take additional steps, including notifying the State of the problems the bureau has identified and providing the State a timeline for remedial action.
If a State does not take the necessary corrective action, OSMRE may begin the process of substituting Federal enforcement for a State program or recommending its withdrawal.
If OSMRE begins this process, the WVDEP will have ample time to come into compliance. If the WVDEP declines — or is unable — to comply within a specific time period, OSMRE will seek to assume responsibility of the State program.