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Editorial: Decapitation

OF the three "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" monkeys, state Environmental Protection Director Michael Miano apparently is the one with his hands covering his eyes.

"Empirically, I can look at the reclamation sites and see there aren't any problems. I can see that with my eyes," Miano said after Delegate Mary Pearl Compton, D-Monroe, asked why his office issues mountaintop removal permits without knowing the environmental harm of the decapitation and valley fills.

Miano must have amazing eyes. Can they peer microscopically into the artificial topsoil that companies use to replace what they've buried? Can they see what fracturing rock strata does to the groundwater system?

We imagine Miano's eyes can't see past the seeds "hydrosprayed" onto the bare soil with enough fertilizer to guarantee growth in the harshest conditions.

We know Miano can't look into the water that percolates out of the valley fills and judge its quality. Miano went on to tell the House Finance Committee: "There has been Ö no environmental damage that has been documented, no water quality problems that we have been aware of."

Perhaps that's because his Division of Environmental Protection has undertaken no comprehensive studies of what the disruption of streams does to plant and animal life. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service warned that reclaimed sites do not support as much biological diversity as natural forested mountains and valleys.

The DEP has no idea what burying hundreds of miles of streams is doing to the overall water quality of West Virginia, even though it is charged by the 1977 federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act to determine the "cumulative hydrological impact" of reclamation before issuing a single permit.

Miano wants to exempt permits that are already in the pipeline from a requirement for environmental impact statements agreed to in a recent lawsuit settlement between coalfield residents, the DEP and federal regulatory agencies.

There's no good reason to exempt any permit that hasn't been issued. Miano can't come up with any justification for approving the half-completed permits - other than saying that mountaintop removal has been occurring for 25 years, and can't cause much more damage in the next two years.

But mountaintop removal has not been conducted on its current mammoth scale for 25 years. Early permits were much smaller, and had smaller valley fills. Permits now in process are for thousands of acres with huge fills. Besides, despite Miano's statements, no one really knows the environmental damage caused by 25 years of cutting off mountaintops. Two more years of unimpeded decapitation could send the state over the edge and devastate water quality.

A comprehensive study should have been completed years ago, before huge permits were issued. Now that the study is finally being undertaken, no permit should be "grandfathered in."

House Speaker Bob Kiss, D-Raleigh, said he wants this study completed because he's "tired of arguing anecdotes; I'd rather argue science." Federal law is clear that the science should have been determined before any permits were issued.

If Kiss means what he says, he'll support a moratorium on permits until the science is in.

Miano may see no evil in current mountaintop removal practices. But, frankly, we don't trust his vision.


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