We likewise suggest that with regard to any property within 1-mile radius of a blast, there should be a rebuttable presumption that the blast caused any property damage. This provision, coupled with the present law that a community member may require the company to do a pre-blasting survey, should make the payment of appropriate damages far more practical.
This should lead, as it does in the oil and gas area, to the quick resolution of claims and a more fair protection of community rights.
We further believe that companies should engage in such mining in a responsible manner and must be held to the duty to do so. We are supportive of federal regulations which require the return of overburden to its approximate original contour (AOC).
Many coal companies in West Virginia in applications for variances from AOC have cited as their basis for a plan of post-mining development "fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands." The UMWA notes that there is no such post-mining provision in federal law. We believe that federal law should be strictly enforced and that post-mining development plans should not include simply "fish and wildlife habitat and recreation lands."
We also support the repeal of Senate Bill 145. As has been shown in the debate leading up to the passage of the recent mitigation bill, some companies in the industry, such as Arch Coal, are willing to be more cooperative than others with efforts to see that such mining is practiced in a responsible manner.
Moreover, it is our understanding that the overwhelming majority of mountains in the state of West Virginia are unsuitable for mountaintop removal mining techniques. We also believe that the many sites throughout West Virginia with historical significance, such as the historic portions of Blair Mountain and the Stanley family farm on Kayford Mountain, must be preserved and thus should be off-limits for mining.
As was recently reported in the Sunday Gazette-Mail, the coal industry remains "a mainstay of the Mountain State economy." Coal and coal-burning utilities account for nearly 60 percent of the state's business tax revenue, and state business taxes paid by coal companies rose more than 35 percent between 1985 and 1996, at a time when the price of a ton of West Virginia coal dropped by 26 percent.
West Virginia coal companies employ more than 21,000 miners directly, and using economic multipliers employed by the federal government, the industry accounts for more than 60,000 additional jobs.
In much of southern West Virginia and in portions of northern West Virginia, the impact is particularly pronounced. In Boone County, for example, 42 percent of the work force is directly employed in the coal industry. In the coal counties of this state, over 10 percent of all jobs are directly linked to coal mining.
Thus, it is not only in the interests of our membership, but in the broader interests of the citizenry of this state that these issues be resolved in an equitable and timely manner. This union has a proud history of working not only in the interests of its own members, but on behalf of all working people and the communities they live in. We fully intend to uphold that tradition.