CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Environmental groups are seeking to force the federal government to address an underfunded program in West Virginia whose purpose is to help cover the costs of coal mine reclamation.
The lawsuit said the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement needs more stringent requirements for the state's surface mining program to ensure coal companies fully fund reclamation bonds.
The Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and the Sierra Club filed the federal lawsuit, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
The same groups had sued the state Department of Environmental Protection last year, saying the DEP failed to notify the federal surface mining office if significant funding or budget changes were to affect the enforcement and administration of the special reclamation fund. The groups, who had called the fund "dramatically underfunded," agreed to drop that lawsuit after such notification was made.
The latest lawsuit argues that the surface mining office should have strengthened requirements for the state program after receiving the notification.
An email left with the federal surface mining office seeking comment was not immediately returned Tuesday.
Sierra Club attorney Peter Morgan said the goal of the lawsuit filed Monday is to ensure the state acts on the special reclamation fund as coal mines continue to close.
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.
"There's an increasing worry that a lot of this bonding system is a house of cards," Morgan told the newspaper. "When it collapses, the financial burden on the state of West Virginia is going to be really substantial."
The DEP last year 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 had said the company, ERP Environmental Fund Inc., laid off all of its employees, ceased operations and abandoned its mining sites