When he ran for governor in 1996, Underwood staunchly backed those
projects as well. That year, environmental groups supported his
Democratic opponent, Charlotte Pritt.
Since he took office in early 1997, Underwood has been in an almost
constant battle with environmental groups.
The governor has repeatedly criticized citizens who went to court
because of their concerns that Corridor H wasn't needed and would cause
great environmental damage.
"I regret that a small minority of people continues to try to
circumvent the clear wishes of an overwhelming majority of citizens in the
region and all of their elected leaders," he said in 1997.
Underwood has led a coalition of regional governors who challenged the
EPA's proposal to reduce power plant emissions.
The governor appointed another timber company official to head the
proposed to cut down dozens of trees at the state Capitol to make way for
a new parking garage and bus turn-around.
When Underwood talks about the environment, it's usually to do one of
First, the governor depicts federal agencies as outsiders bent on
destroying West Virginia's already struggling economy.
"Forces beyond our state borders threaten our growth and our future,"
Underwood declared in his 1999 State of the State address.
"Federal bureaucrats use oppressive, unreasonable regulations and
international treaties to impose air quality standards that jeopardize
thousands of West Virginia jobs."
Second, Underwood repeats the common mantra that economic growth
doesn't mean a dirty environment.
"We can protect the environment without turning out the lights and
costing jobs," the governor said recently. "We believe we have to do
Earlier this year, Underwood signed into law bills that reformed the
State Forest outside Charleston. But the governor was not considered a
force behind either measure.
During his State of the State address in January, Underwood called for
the state to create a program to educate public school students about
environmentalissues. The state Department of Education
already had such a program.
In that same speech, the governor unveiled a proposal for the state to
clean up old tires that litter the countryside. The administration was
with a tax on motor vehicle title transfers, has since made the program
into a success.
Dealing with King Coal
In late 1998, Wise wrote a letter to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining
to call for a moratorium on new mountaintop removal permits.
Wise cited Charleston Gazette reports that dozens of permits issued by
the DEP did not comply with federal and state mining rules.
"The apparent lack of oversight and ambiguity of our state law have led
to questions and controversy with regard to mountaintop removal," Wise
responsible thing to do."
Since then, Wise has changed his tune.
Federal agencies have cracked down on DEP. Permit applications receive
more scrutiny, and take longer to be approved. Haden issued a ruling that,
if upheld, could substantially reduce the size of mountaintop removal
Along with the rest of the state's political leadership, Wise has
chastised federal agencies for slowing down permits. He called for higher
courts or Congress to overturn Haden's ruling.
"As a result of environmental legislation ... surface mining
will never be the same again in the state of West Virginia," Wise said in
a House floor speech.
"So great progress has been made. The question is whether balance will
be preserved," he said. "And the court's decision takes it too far the
Underwood has been even more pro-coal.
The governor called the date of Haden's ruling, "the bleakest day in
the recent history of West Virginia.
"A federal court decision has placed the future of thousands of West
Virginia families at risk."
Underwood has vowed repeatedly to always stand up for the coal industry
and its workers.
"Coal remains our most abundant resource, though one with an uncertain
future," the governor said earlier this year. "We must not turn our back
on coal miners, their families and the many small businesses they
Occasionally, Wise has tried to distance himself from Underwood on
issues related to coal.
In August, the governor suggested that he didn't believe scientific
evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is changing global climate.
"You talk about global warming," Underwood said. "Your weather people
can't predict the weather outside tomorrow morning, yet you want to
predict it 100 years from now."
Wise responded that he believes in global warming, and thinks it is a
problem that needs to be addressed.
The congressman's answer, though, is to push for more federal funding
for clean coal technology.
Repeated House votes for that funding have earned Wise low marks from
the League of Conservation Voters. The group points out that clean coal
programs focus on removing other pollutants from power plant emissions.
Scientists can't do anything about the coal burning's creation of carbon
dioxide, the major greenhouse gas.
Since Labor Day, Wise has criticized Underwood several times for
made it cheaper and easier for coal operators to bury bigger streams under
larger valley fills.
Wise attacked the governor because the bill focused the attention of
federal regulators on mountaintop removal. Wise said that he would have
opposed the bill because this attention slowed down permit approvals - not
because it was harmful to the environment.
Wise has also chided the governor for appointing three successive coal
operators to run the DEP.
But last week, former DEP Director David Callaghan started speaking out
in favor of Wise's campaign. Callaghan was DEP director during most of
Gov. Gaston Caperton's second term, when mountaintop removal was
accelerating across Southern West Virginia.
Wise has declined to promise to appoint someone from the
environmental community to be the agency's director. But he pledges
changes at DEP.
"I will not have someone from the coal industry running DEP," he said.
"It's going to be a different DEP.
"We aren't the same," Wise said of the two major candidates'
environmental stances. "We're totally different."
Future installments of "Issues 2000: The Race for Governor" will
appear in the coming weeks in the Sunday Gazette-Mail and The Charleston
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., use e-mail or call 348-1702.