HOUSE SPEAKER Bob Kiss has finally come to the realization that the mitigation bill passed by the Legislature last season may have gone too far.
The bill nearly doubled the number of acres that coal companies can fill with spoil from mountaintop removal mines without compensating the state for the loss of the buried streams.
The bill, along with national media attention and a Gazette series by reporter Ken Ward Jr., helped focus more attention on the issue of mountaintop removal than coal companies bargained for.
Environmental groups sued state and federal regulators, alleging that the permits for mountaintop removal mines and valley fills are illegal. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is blocking two permits for huge mines, partly over concerns about the long-term effects of the valley fills the bill made easier and cheaper.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers called a moratorium on approval of permits for valley fills, and has since extended it.
The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is taking a closer look at whether the state's definition of "approximate original contour" meets the constraints of the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).
Other factors led to many of these developments, but some could argue that passage of the mitigation bill helped galvanize opposition to mountaintop removal by demonstrating just how deeply the governor and the Legislature were nestled in King Coal's pockets.
"I believe you are going to see that legislation revisited in the next few years," Kiss said at a candidate meeting earlier this week.
As if that would put the genie back in the bottle.
Speaker Kiss, D-Raleigh, didn't tell voters at the meeting that he was largely responsible for passage of the bill. He strong-armed it through the House, using his position to intimidate delegates who questioned whether it was wise to encourage more and larger valley fills.
In the final days of the session, he called committee chairs into his office and threatened them with the loss of their leadership positions if they didn't vote to suspend rules to allow the House to vote on the controversial bill. He promised to work against some delegates in the next election if they didn't vote his way.
He ignored requests to invite EPA representatives in to explain that agency's opposition to the bill. He ignored opposition even by the industry-minded director of the Division of Environmental Protection.
Kiss made passage of this bill a personal mission. But he not only wanted the bill to pass, he wanted to squelch the kind of vocal opposition that flared up around last year's chemical plant self-audit secrecy bill - which passed the House over loud protest moments before the end of the session, but died in the Senate.
The mitigation bill would not have become law if not for Bob Kiss.