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Editorial: Peculiar

WE CAN'T guess how the controversial federal lawsuit over mountaintop removal mining will end - but Gov. Underwood is making some bizarre claims about it.

"If the plaintiffs were to win, mountaintop mining would cease. No more four-lane highways would be built; airport construction in the state would cease," the governor said at an economic development conference at Flatwoods Monday.

Now, that's goofy. The federal suit merely seeks to make state agencies obey U.S. law. How could obeying the law governing decapitation of mountains halt highways and airports?

Underwood said he wants to bring all parties to the table and work out a middle path that will protect jobs and the environment. Yet he denounced the plaintiffs in harsh terms likely to keep them away from the table.

"Let's not make any mistake about it," he said. "The driving forces behind the lawsuit are extreme environmentalists who want to see the entire coal industry gone. They speak of the ëpost-coal era.'"

Well, even the state Coal Association acknowledges that West Virginia's mineral reserves eventually will be exhausted. Sooner or later, the state must begin planning for the "post-coal era."

State regulators are supposed to administer U.S. law to protect West Virginia's mountain grandeur. The law specifies that crests can't be flattened unless beneficial developments are built on the artificial plateaus. State officials failed to obey this law - and that's what the lawsuit is all about.

If the law had been obeyed, and many cut-off mountains were becoming sites for new jobs and commerce, Southern West Virginia would have a more diversified economy when the post-coal era arrives, instead of being left depleted and destitute.


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