Rep. Bob Wise on Wednesday asked three federal agencies to investigate complaints about mountaintop removal strip mining.Wise, D-W.Va., called for the probe in a letter to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.In the letter, Wise cited the new West Virginia law that makes it easier for companies to fill in streams with mine waste without mitigating the stream loss.Wise also noted a Gazette report that three-quarters of the mountaintop removal mining permits in the state did not receive required reclamation variances.
"I am greatly concerned that weakening the mitigation requirements will threaten water quality and ultimately add costs to West Virginia taxpayers who will pay in the future to correct the disruption," Wise wrote."Ironically, this legislation will most likely add costs and work for mining companies who will now have to have their permit applications handled by the Philadelphia EPA office." Wise added that, "I do not make these requests because I oppose mountaintop removal as a mining practice."My concern is that the federal law - and its intent - is not being followed," he said. "The federal agencies have a responsibility to enforce these laws so that states like West Virginia are not forced to compete with each other in a 'race to the bottom' in offering less stringent mining protection."In a radio interview on Tuesday Gov. Cecil Underwood said that any permitting problems at the state Division of Environmental Protection started before he took office in January 1997."We are trying to implement regulations effectively in this and many other areas," Underwood said. "We are trying to work with companies to provide a good balance between environmental protection and economic development."