INITIAL reports from the task force appointed by Gov. Cecil Underwood to study mountaintop removal are surprisingly critical of this type of mining.
The task force was largely written off at the start by environmental critics (including the Gazette) because of the large number of members strongly tied to the coal industry. At least seven of the 16 members either work directly for the industry or do consulting, lobbying or legal work for it.
The head of the committee, Marshall University President J. Wade Gilley, answers to the University Board of Trustees. Arch Coal Inc. Vice President David Todd sits on that board.
Only one member of an environmental group, Gazette contributing columnist John McFerrin, was appointed to the task force.
It's easy to see why many assumed the committee would be a whitewash (we called it a "transparent exercise"). However, promising draft reports from three subcommittees assigned to study the impact of mountaintop removal mining on the environment, the economy and communities raise hopes that the effort could lead to real reforms.
Committee members clearly recognized that lax regulation of mountaintop removal over the past two decades has hurt citizens and the environment. They make some good recommendations, and some troublesome ones.
Among the good:
The establishment of a new agency within the state Division of Environmental Protection to assess and monitor the community impacts of mountaintop removal. This committee would also oversee a "mitigation" process that would compensate homeowners and communities for damage caused by mining and blasting.
Elimination of the "fish and wildlife habitat and recreation" designation for post-mining land use. This designation is not approved by federal regulations, nor does it meet criteria in federal law for improving land flattened by mining.