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New coal industry bill introduced in West Virginia
March 27, 2017

A new bill that would preserve the enforcement authority of state mine inspectors in West Virginia was introduced to the state Senate.

The bill is a retreat from an earlier version that would have stripped the state inspectors of their authority, a version that sponsor Sen. Randy Smith said was designed to get various sides to the negotiating table.

The new bill is still industry friendly as it does away with additional scrutiny before bonds are released for reclamation at mountaintop removal mines with variances allowing them to ignore the general requirement that mines be reclaimed to their “approximate original contour,” or AOC. That language was added to state law nearly 20 years ago, when the Department of Environmental Protection settled a citizen lawsuit over lax enforcement of the AOC standard.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the new bill retains language from the original proposal that would eliminate a requirement that the DEP ensure West Virginia’s water quality standards support “a balanced aquatic community that is diverse in species composition.”

Jason Bostic and the West Virginia Coal Association said that the changes are part of the industry’s continuing effort to fight U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) guidance and rulings by U.S. District Judge Robert Chambers related to water pollution discharges from mining operations. Citizen lawsuits have targeted the effects on aquatic communities and species diversity from coal mining operations in successful court actions against mining operators.

Bostic said the issue is that state officials — not the EPA or federal judges — should decide how West Virginia regulates water quality.

“There is nobody in this country that can determine West Virginia’s water quality standards but the people in this building.” Bostic said at the Capitol. “Not the EPA or Judge Chambers or anybody else.”

The new bill transfers functions of the state’s Mine Inspectors’ Examining Board, the Board of Miner Training, Education and Certification, and the Mine Safety Technology Task Force to the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety.

It leaves two other panels, the Board of Appeals and the Coal Mine Safety and Technical Review Committee, intact. The bill also contains language to eliminate a board related to the use of diesel equipment in underground mines, but that board actually was abolished two years ago.

 

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