THEY CAN'T say they weren't warned. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency urged Gov. Cecil Underwood to veto last session's "mitigation" bill, which made it cheaper for coal companies to decapitate mountaintops and dump the "spoil" into valleys.
EPA warned that the bill would violate the U.S. Clean Water Act, and its passage would force the federal agency to examine West Virginia mountaintop removal mining permits more closely - which could delay them significantly. It said the mitigation bill might even force EPA to take over state enforcement.
Arch Coal lobbied against the bill, perhaps fearing EPA's threats. The Gazette warned that passage of the bill could bring federal enforcement, the coal industry's "worst nightmare."
But at the urging of A.T. Massey Coal Co. and the West Virginia Coal Association, Underwood signed the bill anyway.
Now EPA has at least started to make good on its promises. Federal regulators blocked a permit for a new Massey mountaintop removal mine, partly because they don't want any permits issued under terms of the new law.
Talk about poetic justice.
EPA Regional Administrator W. Michael McCabe said EPA may block all mountaintop removal permits until the agency is convinced that companies will be forced to minimize and mitigate damage to West Virginia streams caused by the huge valley fills that bury miles of headwaters.
This is a promising sign. We were afraid that EPA would be all bluster and no action on this issue. The federal agency should keep the heat on. Perhaps the Legislature will see the light and rescind this damaging law.
It's understandable that Underwood, a former coal executive, is loyal to the out-of-state firms that own West Virginia's coalfields. But he did them no favor by signing the bill now causing a federal crackdown on them.