(a) At the time of submission of an application for a surface mining permit or a significant revision of an existing permit pursuant to the provisions of this article, the applicant shall submit to the department a copy of the required advertisement for public notice on a form and in a manner prescribed by the secretary, which manner may be electronic. At the time of submission, the applicant shall place the advertisement in a local newspaper of general circulation in the county of the proposed surface-mining operation at least once a week for four consecutive weeks. The secretary shall notify various appropriate federal and state agencies as well as local governmental bodies, planning agencies, and sewage and water treatment authorities or water companies in the locality in which the proposed surface mining operation will take place, notifying them of the operator’s intention to mine on a particularly described tract of land and indicating the application number and where a copy of the proposed mining and reclamation plan may be inspected. These local bodies, agencies, authorities, or companies may submit written comments within a reasonable period established by the secretary on the mining application with respect to the effect of the proposed operation on the environment which is within their area of responsibility. The comments shall be immediately transmitted by the secretary to the applicant and to the appropriate office of the department. The secretary shall provide the name and address of each applicant to the Commissioner of the Division of Labor who shall, within 15 days from receipt, notify the secretary as to the applicant’s compliance, if necessary, pursuant to §21-5-14 of this code.
(b) Any person having an interest which is or may be adversely affected, or the officer or head of any federal, state, or local governmental agency, has the right to file written objections to the proposed initial or revised permit application for a surface mining operation with the secretary within 30 days after the last publication of the advertisement required in §22-3-20(a) of this code. The objections shall be immediately transmitted to the applicant by the secretary and shall be made available to the public. If written objections are filed and an informal conference requested within 30 days of the last publication of the above notice, the secretary shall then hold a conference in the locality of the proposed mining within a reasonable time after the close of the public comment period. Those requesting the conference shall be notified and the date, time, and location of the informal conference shall also be advertised by the secretary in a newspaper of general circulation in the locality on a form and in a manner prescribed by the secretary, which manner may be electronic, at least two weeks prior to the scheduled conference date. The secretary may arrange with the applicant, upon request by any party to the conference proceeding, access to the proposed mining area for the purpose of gathering information relevant to the proceeding. An electronic or stenographic record shall be made of the conference proceeding unless waived by all parties. The record shall be maintained and shall be accessible to the parties at their respective expense until final release of the applicant’s bond or other security posted in lieu thereof. The secretary’s authorized agent shall preside over the conference. In the event all parties requesting the informal conference stipulate agreement prior to the conference and withdraw their request, a conference need not be held.