In a study of sharp contrasts, the Senate Wednesday called the mountaintop removal bill on passage stage today in the House, "a good compromise," and overwhelmingly passed a resolution endorsing surface mining.
Hours later, a coalition of environmental and citizen groups decried the bill as being virtually useless.
"We think the whole bill is an embarrassingly poor attempt to give the illusion of action without helping anybody," said John McFerrin of West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, called the bill a good compromise that addresses problems with mountaintop removal mining, but will allow mining to continue.
"Is it a perfect environmental bill? Probably not," Kessler said. "You may hear folks say this bill doesn't do anything. I say to the naysayers, this bill does a lot."
He cited the creation of an office of blasting within the Division of Environmental Protection that establishes a claims process for damage caused by mountaintop removal blasting.
Said McFerrin of the provision, "This gives the citizens the right to be ignored by a different office."
Rick Eades, a hydrogeologist with the West Virginia Environmental Council said the bill is so flawed technically that it provides few protections against blasting damage.
"It gives its blessing not only to blasting mountains away, but to damaging people's houses and wells," he said.
Likewise, McFerrin said a provision rolling back the amount that can be destroyed by valley fills before companies must mitigate damage from 480 acres in the 1998 law to 250 acres hardly counts as an accomplishment.
"It's not any better than it was last year," he said. "Filling streams always has been, and always will be, bad public policy."