Local Environmentalists Meet With Office of Surface Mining (OSM)
April 15, 2002
Photo by Janet Fout
Leaders from OVEC, WV-Citizen Action Group AG, Coal River Mountain Watch, WV Highlands Conservancy, WV Rivers Coalition, and Citizens Coal Council face off with Jeffrey Jarrett, the new Director of the federal Office of Surface Mining (OSM). Jarrett is the one sipping coffee. Jarrett requested the meeting with West Virginia environmentalists, perhaps because he knows OSM has been absurdly lackadaisical in getting the WV Department of Environmental Protection to enforce coal mining laws.
Read Janet Fout's report below the picture.
New Director of the Federal Office of Surface Mining Meets In Charleston With Several Environmental and Coalfield Citizen Groups.
Subtitle: Don't Get Your Hopes Up.
By Janet Fout
Writer's note: This is only an excerpt from an April 15 meeting that lasted more than two hours. I typed fast and furiously (furious is the key word here) and tried to capture as much of the conversation as possible. I didn't include my own occasional tirade, which concerned the necessity to treat our precious water resources with great care instead of burying them under millions of tons of coal mining waste.
(Writer's clarifications appear in italics and parentheses)
After Jarrett said a few words of introduction, he said that there were "some significant issues
(in West Virginia) that should have been dealt with long ago." When Julian Martin asked him to elaborate he replied: "Acid mind drainage and valley fills. It concerns me that the oversight agency
(federal Office of Surface Mining) learns about it in the newspapers instead of knowing about itself." He then called it "a failure on OSM's part."
Here's more of the conversation:
Cindy Rank (West Virginia Highlands Conservancy): "We've been dealing with these issues since 1977-we've been in court-been at the regulatory end for a long time. They
(OSM) need to be more aggressive about dealing with this. We've been through other OSM directors. Now we're talking about mountaintop removal-we might as well kiss southern West Virginia goodbye."
Bob Gates (WVHC): "Changing the definition- it's a killer issue. We certainly hope OSM gets into this before the loophole gets done
(note: at the time of this meeting, the Bush Administration had just proposed changing the definition of "fill" material to include mining waste which would permit the US Army Corps of Engineers to issue permits for filling headwater streams, which is
illegal). If you want to start any place, oppose the change of that definition. Keep the federal government from making an egregious mistake."
Julian Martin (WVHC): "They are changing the rules because we're winning something. What recourse does a citizen have when they change the rules? The legal process means nothing when everything you do is stopped by changing the rules. What would you do? You couldn't go to courts anymore. Imagine the frustration of the people. This happens in places like Iraq and China. If you are a part of that, you
(Jarrett) are part of making the judicial system useless to the average citizen."
Freda Williams (Coal River Mountain Watch): "Last count there were 136 coal slurry dams
(in West Virginia). WV-DEP is watching 5 closely. The biggest (Brushy Fork, a Marfork mine in Raleigh County) will contain 5 billion gallons of "black jello", with a 950 foot dam, built over old mine workings; two others are built over elementary schools-immediately above school yards. Less than 2 weeks ago there was a blow out at this Marfork mine-spilling 3000 gallons an hour- this hugest of all dams
(was built) over old mine works. Built over a deep mine, the impoundment went beyond the permitted area using incidental boundary revisions. In the old mine below, pillars are not of the thickness that the law requires Then in White Oak, people lost their
(drinking water) wells."
Julian: "Go see mountaintop removal as often as you can. Go to Kayford (Mountain) at Larry Gibson's. I grew up in that stuff-God bless America-it is awful; it is grotesque. Is there anywhere else where 300,000 acres has been destroyed?"
A discussion of the Environmental Impact Assessment by the Federal Government and again the proposed Bush Administration rule change on "fill" material to include coal mining waste follows:
Cindy: "What role are you playing in the EIS?"
Jarrett: Five agencies are included-EPA (US Environmental Protection
Agency), USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service), the Corps (US Army Corps of
Engineers), OSM, and WV-DEP (West Virginia Division of Environmental
Protection). EPA was lead agency."
Cindy: "Is OSM playing a bigger role?"
Jarrett: "I'm following it".
Cindy: "The agencies are not working together. The input of USFWS has been missing all along and not taken into account-this affects the people that live near mining."
Jarrett: "It's not a question of what the impacts are. The big problem is finding people who will agree on what the impact is."
Bill McCabe (Citizens Coal Council): "We already have a definition of waste. It's a legitimate role of the Director
(of OSM) to say this is enough. Two definitions always have been present."
Julian: "The only reason it's being changed now (the definition of "fill") is so they can beat us. They're scared that they are going to lose."
Jarrett: "I agree with that (that that is why they are changing the
law). Excess spoil from mountaintop mining is not waste, handled proper and appropriately."