Report: DEP staffing problem 'will not abate anytime soon' - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Report: DEP staffing problem 'will not abate anytime soon'

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A review from a federal agency expresses concern that, among other issues, the state environmental agency is facing ongoing staffing issues.

The annual evaluation of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's regulatory and abandoned mine reclamation program by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement discusses the problem of staffing. According to the report, in 2012, the WVDEP not only had fewer full-time positions, but also had 34 vacancies.

Of those vacancies, 65 percent were in permitting and inspection and enforcement divisions. In fiscal year 2012, the report states the DEP had 270 full time equivalent positions, but only 236 filled positions.

"Although the state has increased its hiring efforts, the number of vacancies increased slightly over prior years," the report states.

The WVDEP is projecting that in fiscal year 2013, its staff positions will decline slightly to 268. It also expects to have nearly 24 vacant positions in 2013.

"Given the number of people at WVDEP who will be eligible to retire in the near future, state officials anticipate that its vacancy problem will not abate any time soon, and they will be faced with filling more vacant positions in the future," the report states.

The state has already increased the filing fee for a surface mining permit application and other permitting actions. The amount of revenue expected to be gained from that is anticipated to be limited, and DEP and OSM is working in cooperation to identify other potential sources of revenue to fund the state regulatory program.

Though the rise of fees brought in additional revenue to the WVDEP, it was not enough to offset the loss of revenue from the Synfuels tax.

A 2011 study noted in the report found that surrounding states have higher staffing levels, despite West Virginia having higher funding levels. The agency is struggling with filling staff faster than current staff is retiring.

"Most of its existing vacancies are in the permitting and inspection and enforcement programs," the report states. "WVDEP increased its hiring efforts during the evaluation year, but given the number of staff that is retiring, it has made little progress in eliminating its backlog of vacancies.  This is beginning to impact on program areas as shown in a reduction in the state's ability to meet its required number of inspections."

The report stated increased job posting at the end of the evaluation year showed positive results.

A response to the report from the DEP did not address staffing issues. The agency has acknowledged the staffing problem in the past.