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Residents oppose mountaintop removal, poll shows

West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal mining and Bush administration efforts to weaken restrictions on the practice, according to a new poll to be released today.

The survey, by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, found that 56 percent of West Virginians oppose mountaintop removal.

The Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, a regional policy and law center based in Lewisburg, paid Lake’s firm, Lake Snell Perry & Associates, to conduct the poll.

“West Virginians know that the coal industry is using our resources for short-term gains at the expense of our future,” said Joe Lovett, an environmental lawyer and the center’s executive director.

The poll, conducted in mid-June, shows stronger opposition to mountaintop removal than other published surveys.

West Virginia polls published in May and October 1998 showed 52 percent and 53 percent of those surveyed opposed mountaintop removal.

In questioning 500 likely voters, the new poll found that 39 percent said they “strongly oppose” mountaintop removal. Another 17 percent said they “somewhat oppose” the practice.

That compares to 12 percent who said they “strongly favor” and 17 percent who “somewhat favor” mountaintop removal mining.

Fifteen percent responded that they were not sure. The poll has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

“The opponents of mountaintop removal are both much more numerous and much more committed,” Lovett said.

The poll found that opposition was stronger among women, 58 percent of whom opposed mountaintop removal. Fifty-four percent of men said they opposed the practice.

Opposition was very strong among union households, with 65 percent saying they opposed mountaintop removal. Among non-union households, 54 percent opposed the practice.

Fifty-one percent of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” about the environmental impacts of mountaintop removal. Another 28 percent said they were “somewhat concerned,” according to the poll.

More details of the results are available online at www.ap

palachian-center.org.

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he could not comment in detail without first seeing all of the questions asked in the poll.

“Given who paid for it, I would think that they are disappointed that it wasn’t 100 percent against,” Raney said.

Lovett and his group had already scheduled today’s release of their poll before a federal court ruling last week in the latest legal battle over mountaintop removal.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers cannot approve new valley fills through a streamlined permit process meant only for activities that cause minimal environmental effects.

In his new ruling, Goodwin ordered the corps to stop approving valley fills under a “general” or “nationwide” Clean Water Act permit that involved little scientific review by the agency. Instead, the judge said, coal companies must seek individual permits that require more detailed environmental studies before they can be approved.

Since taking office in January 2001, the Bush administration has moved to loosen several key restrictions on mountaintop removal.

In its poll, the Appalachian Center found that 60 percent of West Virginians oppose Bush’s actions.

Earlier this year, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign cited a 1999 Senate vote by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as one of the “Top Ten Reasons John Kerry is Wrong for West Virginia.”

In that Nov. 18, 1999, vote Kerry helped to defeat legislation proposed by Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., to overturn a decision by the late U.S. District Judge Charles H. Haden II to limit mountaintop removal.

Haden had ruled that a stream “buffer zone” rule prohibited valley fills in most waterways, allowing them only in smaller, ephemeral streams.

Byrd proposed to write into federal law an agreement among federal agencies to exempt fills from the buffer zone rule if they obtain Clean Water Act permits from the corps.

Kerry’s running mate, Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., voted in favor of Byrd’s legislation.

That year, the League of Conservation Voters included the 56-33 vote against Byrd’s measure in its annual congressional scorecard.

The group noted that the House had already adjourned for the year, meaning that Byrd’s legislation could not have become law and “making the vote largely symbolic.”

Mountaintop removal was generally not an issue during the gubernatorial primaries in May and, so far, has not been an issue in the general election between Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Monty Warner.

Lovett said the poll results show that should change.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate who proposed to weaken mountaintop removal regulations.

“I hope that politicians and candidates will notice this and support the will of the people, and not the will of powerful interests,” Lovett said. “If they won’t consider a ban — which is what voters want — they should at least consider tightening regulations and laws to control the abuses that occur under current law.”


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