Gov. Cecil Underwood stuck by the old saying that "Coal is West Virginia," Wednesday night, but dodged any mention of the industry's biggest current controversy: mountaintop removal mining.
In his annual State of the State address, the governor attacked federal and international efforts to regulate coal's environmental impacts and called for a national energy policy grounded in coal.
"As a nation, we must emphasize the proper use of coal - our most abundant resource - to meet out energy needs," said Underwood, a former Island Creek Coal executive.
Underwood proposed no new environmental protection initiatives and, in his 1999-2000 budget, did not include money for the Division of Environmental Protection's Office of Water Resources.
"The speech only helps to assure Governor Underwood's place in history as West Virginia's most anti-environment administration," said Norm Steenstra, chief lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council.
"There is not one positive initiative in it," Steenstra said. "The speech is a road map back to the environmental dark ages of the 1950s."
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, saw things a little differently.
"I thought the speech was great," Raney said.
"Coal is a very big part of West Virginia and if people feel like there are problems with coal, people are big enough to sit down and try to address them," Raney said.
In his 55-minute speech, Underwood renewed his attacks on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's moves to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
"Companies at risk include some of West Virginia's finest employers: mining, transportation, utilities and manufacturing companies that pay attractive salaries and benefits to support working families," Underwood said.
The governor also repeated his attacks on the international "Kyoto Protocol" to limit air pollution - again, mostly from coal-fired power plants - that causes global climate change.
"This ill-conceived treaty asks developed nations to impose strict emission standards to reduce the threat of global warming," Underwood said. "Remarkably, this same treaty exempts developing nations from these air emissions standards."
Dave Flannery, an environmental lawyer who represents power companies and other industry, said he was pleased the governor made climate change and the air pollution rules a major part of the speech.