This news story originally provided by
The Charleston Gazette
February 19, 2005
Timmermeyer touts faster mine permitting
By Ken Ward Jr.
Coal companies are getting new strip mining permits faster and
will continue to see the regulatory process streamlined under the
Manchin administration, Environmental Protection Secretary Stephanie
Timmermeyer told industry officials Friday.
When Timmermeyer took office in January 2003, industry officials
were furious over a backlog of 60 permit applications that had been
under review for more than two years.
Today, that backlog has been mostly eliminated.
Now, Timmermeyer has assigned a team to speed up approval of
water pollution permits to new and expanding coal mines.
At one point last year, the number of pending applications for
water pollution permits for mining exceeded 900, Timmermeyer said.
It just got to be an out-of-control situation, Timmermeyer said
Friday during a speech to the 32nd annual West Virginia Mining
Symposium, sponsored by the West Virginia Coal Association.
Last year, the number of mining permits issued dropped from 88 to
61, according to DEP data cited by Timmermeyer.
During calendar year 2004, the acreage covered by new permits
also dropped to 13,000 from 22,000 acres on permits issued in
calendar year 2003.
At the same time, the expected tonnage to be mined during the
lifetime of permits issued in 2004 was 153 million tons. Thats
compared to 120 million tons on permits issued in 2003.
Chris Hamilton, vice president of the Coal Association, said the
association has been much happier with the agency since Timmermeyer
fired Matthew B. Crum as its mining director in August 2003.
Crum had led an effort to crack down on blackwater spills at
Massey Energy operations, and pushed for tougher permit rules to
limit minings contribution to flooding.
Timmermeyer has refused to explain why she removed Crum. Longtime
DEP inspector and supervisor Joe Parker is currently the DEPs
In her speech, Timmermeyer did not mention any statistics on how
much strip-mined land is being reclaimed in West Virginia.
In its most recent annual report, the federal Office of Surface
Mining found that mining companies in West Virginia continue to
strip mine more acres than they reclaim.
During the 12-month period covered by the OSM report, companies
obtained new permits for about 21,000 acres of land. During the same
period, they fully reclaimed only 4,000 acres, the OSM reported.
Timmermeyer told coal representatives that she is eager to work
with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on a new, streamlined permit
process approved by the Bush administration.
Under the plan, state mining regulators and the corps can set up
a procedure for companies to obtain Clean Water Act and strip mining
permits through a combined permit application. Currently, the
permits must be obtained separately.
At first blush, it sounds like a great thing, Timmermeyer said.
Bob McLusky, a coal industry lawyer, said in his own speech that
a ruling by U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin would slow down
the issuance of new mining permits.
McLusky said that the July 2004 ruling could force coal companies
to undergo detailed environmental impact studies for all new mining
That can lead to a slow, bureaucratic death, McLusky said.
Earlier this week, another coal industry lawyer told a group of
land and mineral companies that lawsuits over mountaintop removal
have been good for the state.
Terry Sammons, a Mingo County coal lawyer, said the lawsuits have
forced companies and regulators to improve their permits and the way
they mine and reclaim.
In particular, Sammons said, lawsuits have forced some companies
to begin to plan post-mining economic development on their mine
People will throw rocks at me, but, quite frankly, litigation
has created a lot of good things, and can create a lot of better
things in the future, Sammons told the annual meeting of the West
Virginia Land and Mineral Owners Council on Monday.
Too many empty promises have been made in the past, he added.
It has to be better than it was before.
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call