By Brian Sewell
The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement announced on Dec. 30 that it will investigate West Virginia’s surface coal mining regulatory program.
The announcement comes six months after the Citizen Action for Real Enforcement campaign — a coalition of 18 state and national organizations — held a press conference and delivered a nearly 100-page petition to the OSM’s Charleston, W.Va., office. The petition alleges that the state’s chronic failure to enforce the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 demands federal intervention.
Of the 19 complaints included in the petition, OSM will investigate five, including flooding caused by runoff, surface mining law violations on sites where Clean Water Act violations exist, and parts of the state’s reclamation program.
Criticism of inadequate regulation at the state level escalated after the coal-processing chemical spill by Freedom Industries left 300,000 West Virginians without safe water. The groups have drawn attention to the spill to strengthen their case against the DEP.
A petition on MoveOn.org by the CARE Campaign to the Office of Surface Mining demanding an enforcement program “that is accountable to the people of West Virginia” had more than 28,000 signatures at the end of January.
By Kimber Ray
The Supreme Court heard arguments this past December on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, a case that has been debated for more than two years.
The challenges of addressing interstate air pollution have confounded regulators for decades. Due to natural wind patterns, pollution from upwind states — particularly Rust Belt and Appalachian states — typically blows downwind into the Northeast, where it results in federal air pollution fines and rising healthcare costs.
The rule seeks to address the fact that downwind states have needed to install more expensive pollution controls than upwind states in order to deal with their neighbors’ wind-borne pollution. Federal regulations would be based on cost-effectiveness rather than measured contribution to pollution. This would allow the EPA to impose regulations on upwind state industries where control mechanisms may cost less than $500 per ton of pollution, versus upwards of $10,000 in downwind states.
Although a federal appeals court ruled in 2012 that a cost-based approach to regulation exceeded the authority of the EPA, the Supreme Court is reconsidering the case in light of the complexity of interstate air pollution. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that the court appears inclined to rule in favor of the EPA. A final decision is expected in June.
By Molly Moore
The 94 families living along Mill Creek in Letcher County, Ky., have gone years without safe water for drinking or household use due to water pollution from poorly reclaimed coal mines. Due to persistence on the part of local activists, however, 70 families now have municipal water and another 23 are slated to receive water lines.
Elaine Tanner, a resident at Mill Creek, has been meeting with state and federal officials for 10 years in her push to get clean water to the area. Water testing by the Sierra Club, Appalachian Voices and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth revealed illegally high levels of arsenic and other toxins in residents’ wells.
Tanner and allies filed a petition for new funding under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in February 2013. Despite the progress, one residence on the other side of a railroad route was not included in the recent arrangement so Tanner is continuing the effort.