DURING THE PAST FEW months, mountaintop mining in West Virginia has attracted much attention from national media and citizens in many parts of the state. My administration's policy and involvement in the mountaintop removal issue have been grossly mischaracterized. Let me set the record straight.
The Underwood administration did not begin the practice of mountaintop removal. The procedure was defined by the federal Surface Mining Act of 1977. In West Virginia, the first permits for such mining operations date back to the mid-1970s, and much of the expansion of the practice occurred in the decade before I took office.
The media attention this mining technique has received in the past few months might lead you to believe that mountaintop removal is a new phenomenon in West Virginia. As the facts demonstrate, that simply is not the case; it has been happening for two decades.
Much of the media and public attention focused on a bill the West Virginia Legislature passed this year and I signed. That bill did not create the practice of mountaintop removal. It merely codified practices in existence for more than two decades and established a reclamation fee scale so the Division of Environmental Protection could collect fees by statute from coal companies that alter the landscape.
The legislation also modified regulations of the practice to generally conform to laws and fee schedules applied in the state of Kentucky. If the federal government and our state legally allow this mining practice, I do not believe that West Virginia miners should be placed at a competitive disadvantage with miners in other states.
Curiously, officials with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, who have questioned West Virginia's new law, have remained comparatively silent about Kentucky's bill, after which ours is patterned.
We are left to wonder why the U.S. Constitution's mandate of equal protection under the law has not been applied and can only speculate about the reason for the difference in treatment from EPA.
Let me clear another misconception: I did not ask that the legislation be introduced, and my administration did not lobby for its passage. This bill was introduced by members of the Legislature, and, after several years of debating the issue, the Legislature passed the bill by a large margin.
As governor, I do not have the power to change portions of a bill to make it better. Instead, my authority is limited to signing or vetoing bills as they are passed by the Legislature. In this case, I chose to sign the bill for five key reasons:
The Legislature spoke decisively in favor of it: 72-26 in the House and 31-3 in the Senate.
I knew that the bill was important to working families, small businesses and communities where coal is mined, and to many citizens who rely on coal mining for economic sustenance and prosperity. Some argue that the coal era in West Virginia is fading away, and we simply should stop mining it.