Fed. Report: W.V. Coal Operators Turn Mountains Into “Surface of the Moon”

July 28, 2009

(ChattahBox)—According to the Charleston Gazette, a federal report found widespread instances of coal operators in West Virginia flouting laws requiring that the companies restore strip-mining sites to their original contour, leaving behind unsightly flat mountain tops and valleys filled with coal waste that contaminates the state’s water.

The problem is multi-faceted, beginning with the absence of a federal nationwide standard and lax oversight by state DEP and local officials pushing for the mountain contours to remain flat, to make way for economic development.

The 1977 federal Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act mandated that strip-mining operators restore the mining sites to their “approximate original contour,” (AOC) by returning rock and earth back to the land. Some variances are allowed in limited cases where there are clear proposals for post-mining development projects.

As strip-mining operations began to operate in full force throughout the Appalachian region, both state and federal regulators failed to enforce compliance with the AOC standards. The result is an ugly patchwork of former mining sites with flattened mountain tops that can no longer support native vegetation and are too remote to be used for economic development.

A recent unpublished report by the U.S. Office of Surface Mining investigators, (OSM) found that mining operators left reclaimed mining sites significantly lower than the AOC formula spelled out in their permit applications. In one instance, one mining company left the mountain top more than 200 feet lower than required by the state DEP standards.

Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, recently testified before Congress denouncing the mining operators and state and federal regulators for not complying with AOC laws, destroying the natural landscape of West Virginia.

“[M]ining operators, with the acquiescence of OSM, thumb their noses at the law and create monstrous valley fills and sawed off mountains that more closely resemble the surface of the moon than our lush, green hills,” said Lovett.

DEP Secretary Randy Huffman, supported by West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, support exemptions to the AOC contour rules, leaving behind flat land for development, because of the lack of flat buildable land in the state. But Joe Lovett claims there is little post mining development on the ugly swatches of ravaged flattened mountain tops.

“The post-mining land is in isolated mountain areas, the land is unstable for building and it will no longer support native vegetation,” Lovett said.

Meanwhile, OSM officials are working on issuing a nationwide regulatory clarification on how to meet and enforce the AOC rules for strip mining sites. The battle to stop the cavalier attitude towards AOC enforcement will be an uphill one, however.

Tom Clarke, director of DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation, is perfectly satisfied with the efforts of local strip miners in restoring the land, saying “…you are sculpting the ground with a bulldozer, not Michelangelo doing Venus de Milo or something.”


2 Responses to “Fed. Report: W.V. Coal Operators Turn Mountains Into “Surface of the Moon””

  1. Fed. Report: W.V. Coal Operators Turn Mountains Into “Surface of the … - Chattahbox.com @ Metals News on July 28th, 2009 3:15 pm

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