DEP chief irked by EPA interference
April 20, 2009 ·
DEP Secretary Randy Huffman says he is frustrated by the Environmental Protection Agency stepping on his agency’s toes.
EPA officials were in Charleston last week. The EPA is raising concerns about several mountaintop removal permits, including two in West Virginia, but Huffman says all mining-related activities are already heavily regulated by the DEP.
“We are the environmental regulators here in West Virginia," he said. "We are the ones on the front line here. We are the ones responsible for protecting the environment. We have a very rigorous and robust regulatory program that is basically being challenged.
"We’ve already forced the companies to make a lot of concessions and change the way they do business and there have been a lot of changes made over the past 10 years. We feel like we’ve been through this process; that’s just another source of frustration. But primacy for regulating surface mining in West Virginia belongs to the state and not the federal government."
During the two days of meetings in Charleston, EPA officials met with representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection, mining company representatives and the governor in an effort to explain their decision.
During the meetings, Huffman says both sides got to explain their points of view.
“We understand a lot more about where EPA is coming from, and that’s been very helpful because their objection letters to these permits kind of came out of the blue and caught everyone off-guard," he said. "It’s a little bit frustrating in that these permit applications have been through a long and rigorous process over the course of a couple of years and EPA has made their objections known here in the final hour.”
Huffman says the sticking point is that the EPA believes that creating valley fills—the practice where the tops of the mountains are removed and put into a nearby valley—contribute to stream degradation. But Huffman says valley fills are essential to mountaintop removal, as well as the state’s economy.
“Mainly what we’re concerned about as regulators is the ability to develop land after mining," he said. "You need valley fills if you’re going to have a viable post mining economy. You need flat land. And in order to have flat land you need to have valley fills, and one of our biggest concerns is that EPA is wanting to reduce the size and number of valley fills in Appalachia.”
The EPA has avoided making any kind of blanket declarations on mountaintop removal, and has said only that future permits will be closely scrutinized.