Members of a gubernatorial task force have come up with a long list of ways the state could protect residents and the environment from mountaintop removal mining.
Now, task force members said Wednesday night, it's up to Gov. Cecil Underwood and the Legislature to put those suggestions into effect.
"This is probably just the beginning of the process," said Marshall University President Wade Gilley, who chaired the task force. "The governor and the Legislature will have to pick up the ball and go from here."
The 16-person task force, appointed by Underwood in June, met Wednesday night for the last time.
Members approved, with mostly minor changes, three committee studies that will make up the bulk of their report to the governor. They also approved an executive summary that completes the four-chapter report.
The executive summary made it clear that task force members do not believe the public debate over mountaintop removal should end with their report.
"The balance between preservation of the natural landscape and surface mining is an inherently political decision vested in the legislative branch," the summary said.
"Consequently, the Legislature should consider whether public values compel restrictions on the degree of alteration in the natural landscape and the environment, especially in regard to large-scale mountaintop mining operations."
Among the task force's final recommendations:
More study is needed to determine the long-term environmental impacts of blasting off entire mountaintops to reach coal seams, and dumping leftover rock and earth into miles-long valley fill waste piles that bury streams.
Studies should examine the current and potential extent of mountaintop removal and the long-term and cumulative impacts on water quality and wildlife.
A new office should be created within the state Division of Environmental Protection to regulate the impacts of mountaintop removal on the people who live near these giant mines.
Among other things, the office should review mining permits to make sure they address potential community impacts, make sure coal companies treat people fairly when they buy out residents near mine sites, and help residents recoup damages from mine blasting.
The Legislature should rescind a bill passed earlier this year to make it cheaper for companies to bury streams beneath valley fill waste piles.
Before the state creates a new policy to govern "mitigation" of stream losses to valley fills, federal agencies should come up with a nationwide rule on the matter.