HE HAS GOT to be kidding. Gov. Cecil Underwood apparently wants yet another group to waste time talking about mountaintop removal mining.
"The governor and the speaker and the Senate president have decided to try to put together a group of stakeholders," Jim Teets, Underwood's chief of staff, told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Wasn't that already done by Underwood's much-vaunted task force on mountaintop removal? Maybe the task force failed to come up with satisfactory answers, despite the governor's loading it with coal sympathizers.
In fact, the task force did a better job laying out the issues than environmentalists expected or Underwood hoped. The governor has done little with the task force report except to hand it to the Legislature.
When one legislator, Delegate Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, asked for legislative guidance from the governor during the Judiciary Committee meeting, Teets brought up Underwood's decision to put together yet another group to examine the issue.
Johnson is miffed. He thinks this may be just another delaying tactic to avoid dealing with the issues.
"Something's going to happen this session. This cannot be stalled," Johnson said. "The people of Southern West Virginia have suffered hard and long - long enough." (After voicing his complaints, Johnson was appointed to the committee.)
Public opinion polls show that two-thirds of West Virginians want mountaintop removal limited. They believe it is too destructive as currently practiced.
As the task force report said: "Public opinion clearly demonstrates that the natural landscape has compelling esthetic, natural heritage and even cultural values to our state."
Reporter Ken Ward Jr. aptly demonstrated in his ongoing "Mining the Mountains" series that current mountaintop removal practices violate the 1977 federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act.