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OSM misses its own deadline with mountaintop report

Federal regulators on Tuesday issued a long list of things they plan to do to better police mountaintop removal coal mining.The U.S. Office of Surface Mining announced specific dates that it will publish new rules, give state regulators permitting guidance and review how the programs work.But by the time OSM made its announcement, the agency had missed its first deadline.By April 28, OSM had promised to publish its decision on whether the state Division of Environmental Protection can allow mountaintop removal mines to be reclaimed as "fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands."As of Tuesday, the decision had not appeared in the Federal Register, and was not approved by OSM Director Kathy Karpan."We're running a few days late," said Al Klein, OSM's Appalachian regional director.Last year, OSM launched its first-ever review of mountaintop removal. A series of draft reports found numerous problems, including permits that DEP issued in violation of the law and sections of state law that are too weak. The OSM reports have been repeatedly delayed, as has the agency's decision on mountaintop removal and fish and wildlife post-mining land uses.Despite its past problems in dealing with the issue, OSM on Tuesday issued a final oversight report that outlined specific dates for more than a dozen new mountaintop removal actions."Remedial work is already underway on some of the issues," Karpan said in a news release.Among the actions announced:
OSM and DEP will implement new guidance to determine whether mine proposals meet the approximate original contour reclamation, or AOC, rule. No specific dates for this were announced.OSM will give DEP more specific instructions about what types of post-mining land use development plans are required for operators to receive AOC variances and flatten land. This is due by July 12.DEP will write new requirements for companies to show that there is a market and need for post-mining land uses they propose. These requirements will be distributed by May 28.DEP will draw up a new mining permit application that will require more extensive information from companies concerning AOC variances and other issues. This task should be completed by May 21.
DEP will review all existing permits to make sure that they comply with the new post-mining land use and AOC variance guidelines provided by OSM. This will be done within three months of the state receiving the new guidance."We are proceeding with diligence on all the issues and intend to keep those dates," Klein said Tuesday.DEP officials have completed one of the tasks outlined in the report. The agency's computer system has been revised to include information about AOC variances and mining types."The resolution of these issues is WVDEP's top priority," said DEP Director Michael Miano.The OSM report is available on the Internet at
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.
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