Division of Forestry Director Bill Maxey says he is retiring because the Underwood administration tried to stifle his opposition to mountaintop removal strip mining, which he calls a blight akin to AIDS.
Underwood aides forced him to issue a statement toning down his position, Maxey says.
And the Division of Environmental Protection and federal Office of Surface Mining tried to get him to approve regulations that would justify blasting the tops off mountains to get at coal seams, leaving flat, treeless expanses and valleys filled with debris.
Administration and agency officials deny the allegations.
Maxey, whose resignation was effective Saturday, also says he quit because Underwood's two-year delay in reappointing him was a "sort of a slap in the face."
"For two years I sat there not knowing if I was going to have a job or not. That poisoned me on the job," Maxey says.
The delay made him reluctant to voice his opinion on mountaintop removal, which Underwood supports, fearing he would be fired.
Maxey, who has held the post since 1993, was reappointed by Underwood on Aug. 24 and confirmed by the Senate on Oct. 20.
"I think mountaintop removal is analogous to serious disease, like AIDS," says Maxey, who has been an opponent of surface mining since before the Federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977.
He spoke against the act to a congressional subcommittee while he was a tenured associate professor of forest management at West Virginia University, where he taught for 11 years. Maxey also has worked 15 years as a forester for Westvaco Corp. and seven years for Georgia Pacific.
Although the law requires mined land to be reclaimed for an equal or greater use than its pre-mining use, most becomes grassland, not a timber-rich forest, Maxey says. And procedures that could make the land good for trees are not being widely used, he says.
Timber is the only renewable natural resource and the industry employs more than 30,000 people, Maxey says. By comparison, the coal industry employs about 18,000, including about 4,400 at surface mines, according to the West Virginia Coal Association.
Maxey also says that Underwood has never consulted him on forestry issues during the governor's two-year tenure.
"For 44 years I went to work with enthusiasm. I couldn't wait to get to work. The last two years I had to force myself," says Maxey, 64.
The only contact he had with Underwood's office was after Secretary of State Ken Hechler, an opponent of mountaintop removal, quoted Maxey as saying the practice had "destroyed" 250,000 acres of forest.
Two Underwood aides called him and ordered him to issue a rebuttal, Maxey says. Instead, he put out a statement saying 300,000 acres of forest had been "disturbed."
"I had to, against my will, really, say that it could be properly reforested. ... That isn't what I really wanted to say. That's what I was told to say," Maxey says.
"Absolutely untrue," says Underwood spokesman Dan Page, one of the two aides Maxey says pressured him.
Page says he called Maxey to see if Hechler had quoted him correctly.