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$1 MILLION IN FINES, FEES REVEALED THIS YEAR


Publication: THE CHARLESTON GAZETTE
Published: Tuesday, July 23, 1991
Page: P1C
Byline: KEN WARD JR.

Division of Energy attorney George V. Piper likes to joke that Paul Nyden is the agency's best investigator. To others, the situation isn't very funny.

So far this year, the Gazette's investigative reporter has uncovered more than $1 million in outstanding environmental fines and fees owed to the DOE or the federal Office of Surface Mining by coal COMPANIES. SINCE 1989, NYDEN HAS REVEALED NEARLY $2 MILLION IN unpaid fines and fees.

""We are sometimes led to believe he works for the Gazette," SAYS ENERGY COMMISSIONER WOODY WAYLAND. ""BUT HE IS THE DIVISION of Energy's only full-time investigator. He has made my work easier ." Perry D. McDaniel, a Charleston lawyer and president of the West Virginia Environmental Council, said, ""It's a shame The Charleston Gazette has to fund the job that the coal industry should be doing and that is proper review of permit applications, especially with regard to reviewing files for violations and the proper follow-up for the imposition of civil penalties." NYDEN, WHO HAS A DOCTORATE IN SOCIOLOGY FROM COLUMBIA University, has been a Gazette reporter since 1982. For the past several years, his work has focused on the problems of the underfunded and understaffed DOE. With the help of lawyers, environmentalists and union activists, Nyden documents renegade coal operators who violate environmental and safety laws. Often, he writes about operators who should be permit-blocked because of outstanding violations, but receive new permits from DOE anyway.

For example, Nyden wrote about former Energy Commissioner George Dials attending the dedication ceremonies for a new Preston County mine in 1990. He revealed that Dials gave operator John Hardesty of Preston Energy a permit. Hardesty should have been permit-blocked because of more than $100,000 in unpaid mining fees.

Most recently, Nyden has been investigating ties between A.T. Massey Coal and several smaller contractor mining companies with environmental problems.

DOE officials in May blocked Massey from receiving new mining permits after Nyden revealed strong evidence that Massey controlled Four H Coal Co. and Preece Brothers Coal Co. Four H and Preece Brothers had a permit revoked and a bond forfeited by DOE in 1984.

When DOE decided a month later there wasn't enough evidence to block Massey, Nyden wrote a story about Massey's ties to Alley Branch Coal Co. Alley Branch abandoned a mine in Mingo County in 1985, leaving streams polluted and forfeiting a bond.

The facts in Nyden's stories were used as evidence in a Kanawha County hearing at which Judge Tod Kaufman ordered DOE not to give Massey any new permits. DOE has been unable to document any of Massey's ties on its own.

McDaniel said, ""Instead of a watchdog for the coal industry, what we have is a malnourished lazy dog that sits in the shade under the porch as the coal industry goes about its way until someone like Paul Nyden comes along and nips them on the leg." Wayland says that kind of criticism doesn't bother him. ""There are definitely problems here and I've been one to say we need more help. I consider what Paul puts in the paper as a help to us.

Paul's our only investigator. We need more help." Nyden uses his own computer database and combs through DOE files regularly. DOE critics say the fact that he finds so many violations that the agency can't suggests DOE should either be given more money and staff, or the mining enforcement program should be turned over to the OSM. ""It's absolutely ridiculous that an investigative reporter is doing the job a state regulatory agency should be," McDaniel said.

""AND THE ONLY TIME THE REGULATORY AGENCY ACTS IS WHEN THE investigative reporter reviews the files and finds something they should have found."

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