Environmental groups sue over W.Va. coal reclamation fund

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Environmental groups have sued 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 lawsuit filed Thursday by the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Sierra Club seeks to force the state to address the state’s “dramatically underfunded” program whose purpose is to cover the costs of coal mine reclamation, according to a news release.

The groups said 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.

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 has said the company, ERP Environmental Fund Inc., laid off all of its employees, ceased operations and abandoned its mining sites.

An earlier notice of a pending suit from the environmental groups said the DEP indicated in its March lawsuit that the special reclamation fund would be overwhelmed if it were to take responsibility for ERP’s permits. But a letter sent this week from the DEP to the federal enforcement office indicated DEP does not believe there is a problem with its reclamation program, the environmental groups’ statement said.

“This lawsuit ensures that state and federal agencies can no longer deny the existence of this pervasive and urgent crisis,” Karan Ireland of the Sierra Club’s West Virginia chapter said in the statement.

The DEP did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Money from the 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.

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