Opponents of mountaintop removal said Friday that recommendations from a governor's task force on the issue are too little, too late.
"These studies are getting us nowhere. We can't rely on the politicians," said Harvard Ayers of the multistate environmentalist group Appalachian Voices. "The people have to demand the politicians right this wrong."
Secretary of State Ken Hechler, former Division of Forestry Director Robert Maxey and Ayers of Boone, N.C., hope to rally opponents to lobby legislators on the issue.
Hechler and Maxey said they have little faith in legislators because the Legislature has allowed mountaintop removal in the past. And last year lawmakers allowed coal companies to cover 480 acres of stream bed instead of the previous 250 before they would be required to mitigate their work. Underwood has blocked enforcement of that law.
Maxey and Hechler want to end mountaintop removal, but they're willing to compromise. Ayers, however, is steadfast in his opposition.
"I think it's a little bit hard to make murder palatable," Ayers said. "There's no doubt in my mind that mountaintop removal, mountaintop decapitation, is the worst environmental problem occurring on the East Coast."
Hechler said smaller operations that are mined responsibly might be acceptable. But companies conducting mountaintop removal mining say their current practice of mining large areas is the only way they can make a profit.
Maxey has said if the practice cannot be stopped, more needs to be done to reforest mined land and to return the stripped, nutrient-rich topsoil before trees are planted.
"It takes thousands of years to replace our mountain soils. It's unbelievable to me that federal and state agencies can look the other way at this," Maxey said.
Maxey, who opposes mountaintop removal in part because of its deforestation effect, said the panel's recommendation that forestry should be the preferred post-mining land use is too weak.
"Why didn't they just say it is the only option, that is the law? That's the kind of words you have to watch for," Maxey said.
Gov. Cecil Underwood has said he supports most of the report's recommendations. He has not decided, however, whether he will officially recommend new laws based on the report when he makes his State of the State address Jan. 13, said Underwood spokesman Rod Blackstone.
Hechler said a task force subcommittee headed by Sen. Lloyd Jackson, D-Lincoln, that focused on the impact on neighbors of mine sites made the best recommendations.
But that group's proposal to establish an office within the Division of Environmental Protection to regulate the effects of strip mining on communities and individual residents is misguided, Hechler said. It should be placed elsewhere, because DEP Director Michael Miano is a "cheerleader" for mountaintop removal, Hechler said.