Crafting of new permitting criteria to ensure that coal companies are held to the federal requirement that mandates in-hand plans, financing and demonstration of need for development to follow mountaintop removal mining.
The repeal of last session's disastrous "mitigation bill," which made it easier and cheaper for coal companies to fill in large valleys without paying the state for the loss of water quality.
The most troublesome recommendation was to supplant the "fish and wildlife habitat" designation with "commercial forestry." We've seen little evidence that reclaimed land can sustain forest, though we certainly hope it's possible.
More to the point, federal law requires flattening the land to be "essential" for post-mining land uses. As outgoing Division of Forestry Director Bill Maxey pointed out recently, asserting that timber companies need flat land to harvest trees is laughable.
So far, officials at the federal Office of Surface Mining have refused to revisit the state's commercial forestland designation, even though they privately admit it never should have been allowed.
"Fish and wildlife" habitat was a ploy that allowed mining companies to decapitate mountains without following up with improvements mandated by federal law. Commercial forestland designations could have the exact same result.
Overall, though, the draft reports are promising. They show a balanced examination of the issue that recognizes both the economic benefits and sometimes terrible costs to individuals and communities.
More importantly, the reports show a forward-looking vision that asks what will happen after the coal is gone? Mountaintop removal accelerates the extraction of coal tremendously, making that question all the more pressing.