United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts on Thursday challenged one of the state's leading mountaintop removal critics to a public debate.
Roberts said he wants to debate "the importance of coal mining to West Virginia's economy" with Cindy Rank, mining chairwoman of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.
"My reason for wanting to debate Ms. Rank is not mean-spirited," Roberts said in a news release. "I just feel that her ideas are one-sided and are clouding the public discussion."
The conservancy is one of the plaintiffs in a federal court lawsuit that seeks to curb mountaintop removal mining.
In early March, the lawsuit prompted Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II to issue a preliminary injunction that halted permits for Arch Coal Inc. to expand its Dal-Tex mountaintop removal operation in Logan County. Nearly 400 UMW members could lose their jobs without the permits.
Roberts said he is open to offers from the state media to host and broadcast the debate.
"An open debate between two concerned parties would certainly go a long way toward helping the state determine which direction it wants to proceed," Roberts said.
"Some in the environmental community appear to believe that West Virginia would simply be better off without coal mining," Roberts said. "They are sorely mistaken."