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Environmental Groups To Sue State Over W.Va. Coal Fund

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young
/
Ohio Valley ReSource

Environmental groups announced Monday that they plan to sue the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection over what they say is the agency's failure to adhere to federal reporting requirements for a coal mine reclamation fund.

The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Sierra Club filed a notice of a pending lawsuit. The groups said in a news release that the DEP failed to notify the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement if significant funding or budget changes were to affect the enforcement and administration of the special reclamation fund.

Money from the reclamation fund is used to complete mine reclamation when the amount of bonds that are forfeited by companies are less than the actual cost of reclamation. Most of the funding for the special reclamation fund comes from a tax of 27.9 cents on each ton of clean coal mined in the state.

The groups allege the state now considers the fund to be dramatically underfunded and unable to cover the costs of coal mine reclamation.

DEP acting spokesman Terry Fletcher said the agency was viewing the notice and he declined further comment Monday.

The DEP in March sued a company that acquired more than 100 mining permits from Patriot Coal Corp.'s 2015 bankruptcy. Most of the permits are in West Virginia and others are in Kentucky, Illinois and Tennessee.

The DEP said the company, ERP Environmental Fund Inc., laid off all of its employees, ceased operations and abandoned its mining sites. The DEP is seeking to have a special receiver appointed to assume control of the company's assets to assure compliance with environmental laws.

The environmental groups' notice said the DEP indicated in its lawsuit that the special reclamation fund would be overwhelmed if it were to take responsibility for ERP's permits. The notice claims the state now considers the reclamation fund to be dramatically underfunded and unable to cover the costs of coal mine reclamation.

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