"CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Coal operators in Southern West Virginia are not restoring large strip-mining sites to their 'approximate original contour,' despite a state policy change meant to require such reclamation, according to a previously unpublished federal government report.
U.S. Office of Surface Mining investigators found that reclaimed mining sites were left much lower in elevation than required to meet the approximate original contour formula spelled out in their approved permit applications.
In one of the eight instances examined by OSM -- the most extreme example in the federal agency study -- the mine operator left the land more than 200 feet lower than required by a permit approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Under federal law, mine operators must generally put strip mine sites back the way they were prior to mining. The law calls this 'approximate original contour,' or AOC. In limited circumstances, operators that proposed post-mining development can leave mined sites flattened or with gently rolling hills."