CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) — The West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC), and the Sierra Club filed a notice of intent to sue the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

The three groups are suing the department for its mismanagement of the Special Reclamation Fund (SRF), and its related failure to comply with federal reporting requirements, the Sierra Club announced today.

The fund was established to reclaim and clean up recently abandoned coal mines. The Sierra Club said the groups sending the notice letter are represented by attorneys with Appalachian Mountain Advocates and Public Justice.

“It’s astounding that despite the department’s assurances to the contrary, the fund is dangerously underfunded and financially incapable of fulfilling the fund’s purpose of financing coal mine reclamation,” West Virginia Sierra Club’s Senior Campaign Representative Karan Ireland said.

Under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, state regulators are required to notify the Director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement if any significant changes in funding or budgeting for the fund were to affect the management of the state-approved programs.

The department allegedly failed to notify Reclamation and Enforcement the state now considers the fund to be underfunded and unable to cover the costs of coal mine reclamation, according to the Sierra Club.

The reporting requirement was triggered in March when WVDEP said assuming responsibility for cleaning up more than 100 permits would financially and administratively overwhelm the fund, according to the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club says these statements from the conflict with a report the department published a month prior in February. The Special Reclamation Fund Advisory Council Report recommended no changes to the tax financially supporting the fund and stated multiple times the fund would be financially sound through the year 2039. 

Vivian Stockman, OVEC’s Executive Director, released the following statement:

“Either the SRF Advisory Board was badly misinformed or it intentionally misinformed the public. Either way, it is clear that the WVDEP is out of compliance with federal law and the SRF is inadequate to clean up the mess the coal industry leaves behind.”

Vivian Stockman, OVEC’s Executive Director