The state Division of Environmental Protection will oppose a key portion of a court settlement that could help curb mountaintop removal coal mining, DEP Director Michael Miano told legislators on Monday.Miano told the House Finance Committee he is against a provision that would force pending mountaintop removal permit applications to undergo environmental studies that could take up to two years."It's my feeling that those permits should be given some special consideration, as opposed to those that would be affected by the court settlement," Miano said.Asked after the meeting to elaborate, Miano said, "There should be some sort of grandfathering of these permits."Miano and more than a dozen of his staff attended a finance committee budget hearing on Monday afternoon to lobby for $5.6 million in additional funding for the troubled DEP Office of Water Resources.Miano explained to committee members that the water office has a backlog of roughly 500 permits that haven't been issued or renewed on time. That backlog deals with water discharge permits for non-coal industries and for municipal wastewater plants.Delegate Eustace Frederick, D-Mercer, complained about mining permit delays forced on the state by an environmental group lawsuit and additional scrutiny from federal regulators.
"We've got to remember these miners and these coal miners' children need to eat, too," said Frederick, a mining engineer from Bluefield.Under a proposed court settlement with the West Virginia Highland Conservancy, DEP and four federal agencies would conduct a two-year environmental impact study of mountaintop removal.In the interim, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has agreed to require large surface mines to receive individual valley fill permits from the Army Corps of Engineers.Delegate Mary Pearl Compton, D-Monroe, asked Miano, "Why should we go ahead and issue the permits when we don't know the impacts?"Miano responded, "Empirically, I can look at the reclamation sites and see there aren't any problems. I can see that with my eyes."If in the last 25 years there hasn't been environmental damage done, then additional environmental damage that is done in the next two years it would take to do the study would be insignificant," Miano said. "I don't believe it would be so bad that we should wait [to issue permits]." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.