But that conclusion fails to consider the people who depend on coal mining for their livelihood, citizens whose communities and property values would evaporate if the coal industry leaves our state, and small businesses that would be forced to close if coal mining were to cease. While coal may not have the same economic prominence it had 40 years ago, it is still vital to communities, especially in southern West Virginia.
West Virginia coal must compete on a global basis. Between 5 million and 7 million tons of coal are imported into the United States every year - mostly from South America into southern states - despite the availability of domestic coal from West Virginia. Users of this imported coal say it is cheaper to produce and transport than coal from our region. Our miners and companies must remain competitive with these international sources of coal.
That influx, plus the abundance of coal now being produced from western states, requires that West Virginia coal be as competitively priced as possible, if we hope to retain mining jobs for our citizens.
Despite the fact that mountaintop removal has been used for decades, no scientific analysis has been made of the environmental impact of accompanying valley fills and stream mitigation practices. The legislation mandated a study of those issues for the first time.
Beyond the impact of stream mitigation outlined in the bill, this mining practice has other impacts on our citizens, our communities and our economy.
Because of my deep concern for the environment and the state's economy, I formed the Task Force on Mountaintop Mining Practices to study all aspects of this issue, the way it is used, and the way it is regulated in West Virginia. I have asked that the task force, which includes people with a wide range of opinions, experience and expertise, report back to me by Dec. 1, before the start of the next legislative session.
During the first meeting of the task force, I told its members that I was seeking their expertise - not their rubber stamp on any particular position. Because I want them to examine these issues carefully, thoroughly and independently, I have sought to avoid commenting on the issue so as not to influence their examination in any way.
This is a controversial issue often oversimplified by advocates on both sides of the debate. I want the task force to conduct a thorough, fact-based, independent examination of all the issues related to the effect of this procedure on the environment, our quality of life and the region's economy.
I have avoided public debate on this issue because I do not want to influence in any way the work of the task force or its findings. I will support the findings of the task force and work with the Legislature to implement its recommendations.
I hope this summary about this controversial issue has served to explain my actual position on this issue and to clarify the misconceptions about it that you may have heard or read.
Gov. Underwood issued this position paper while declining an invitation to debate mountaintop removal at the Pinch Reunion.