Editorial: Mountaintop II

WHAT alternate universe is state Environmental Protection Director Michael Miano living in?Miano lauded this week's release of a nine-month U.S. Office of Surface Mining study into regulation of mountaintop removal mines in West Virginia.Miano claimed that the report vindicated his agency. "The report said OSM has found West Virginia's permits have been legally issued," he said in a prepared statement. "The report did not find any environmental problem associated with West Virginia permits."OSM regional director Al Klein disagreed. "Our report does not match up with that statement," he said.In fact, the OSM report found that DEP had issued "approximate original contour" (AOC) variances specifying after-mining land uses not approved by federal authorities. The AOC variance is required when coal companies don't return mountains to almost their original shape.The report also found that the state doesn't have a consistent definition of what constitutes AOC, resulting in overly broad and varied interpretations.
This is an important issue. When coal companies are granted an AOC variance, the 1977 Surface Mining and Reclamation Act requires that they have development plans ready for better use of the land once the coal is gone.Arbitrary decisions about whether a particular mountaintop removal site will meet AOC requirements hurt communities that could benefit from these developments, as does the use of unapproved post-mining land uses."Fish and wildlife habitat and recreation areas" - the most popular post- mining land use granted by DEP, and the major one cited by OSM as lacking federal approval - does nothing to build a stable economic base for communities after the coal firms have packed up and moved on.It is clear that DEP has ignored the intent of the federal surface mine law, which requires development of decapitated mountains.The report did say that no "significant environmental problems" were found at examined sites - although we can't see how buried streams don't present environmental problems. Still, that's irrelevant. The report focused on approximate original contour and postmining land uses, not environmental issues.Did Miano or his flacks even read the report before issuing the ludicrous claim of vindication?
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