Formal Complaint To Agency
What it is: It depends upon the nature and target of your complaints.
Mining Issues: You can write a letter to either the WV DEP, OSM or both if you know of a violation of the permit or of the applicable state or federal Act. They are then required to respond to you, within 10 days, to let you know how they plan to follow-up. If they conduct an onsite inspection then they are required to take you along. Whether or not you accompany the inspector on-site you have the right to obtain an inspection report as a follow up to your complaint.
Water Issues: Water and Waste, and Oil and Gas both accept both anonymous tips as well as personal complaints. You can call, write, or email through an online complaint filing system. Unlike the situation with mining, there does not appear to be a citizen complaint process imbedded within the statute or regulations. There are however internal policies. Spills and other imminent hazards to water quality are given immediate attention by agency staff. Other violations will be less of a priority. Anonymous tips are given less priority than those with a contact. As a matter of internal policy Oil and Gas tries to respond to any citizen complaint within 24 hours. If an inspection is conducted then you have the right to the inspection report. It may require a FOIA, or you may be able to obtain it just by asking.
Advantages: A more formal method which is likely to result in an enforcement action by an inspector. DEP and OSM monitor the frequency of these complaints. You should receive some follow-up and a copy of an inspection report. This is a good way to handle egregious violations which are fairly simple and straightforward (rather than programmatic). It is cheap and easy because you hand off enforcement to the agency. If it is a mining problem you may get to go on-site and see for yourself what is going on.
Disadvantages: If you start this way it may put the agency as well as the company on the defensive, which can impact their ability and willingness to help get other resources. This is not a good tool to use for policy type issue, as it has to be a violation of a permit or law that the inspector can easily point out. Although it is cheap and easy you are handing over enforcement to the agency, DEP generally gets first crack at the problem.
Recommendations: This is a good tool to use for violations of mining permits and regulations as well as for spills and other emergency type water quality violations. I think it is less useful for violations of WV/NPDES permits and definitely for any issue that is going to be controversial to enforce. It is also worth noting that in some instances you may want to be careful not to tip your hand to the enforcement agency too early. When filing a complaint to the DEP’s Division of Mining and Reclamation or to OSM make sure to try and be as specific as possible about the violation and point to the section of the permit or the law that you are relying on. Letters, or phone calls followed up by letters seem to carry the most weight as they are kept as a record of your complaint.