After surviving a stormy $60 million recall election battle, the embattled Republican administration in Wisconsin is pushing a law change to make it easier for mining companies to open pits.
But a retired university professor says the plan is akin to notorious "broad form deeds" that once let coal operators "run roughshod over the landscape" in West Virginia.
In a commentary titled "Do the ... Citizens of Wisconsin Want West Virginia-Style Mining?" Dr. Lowell Klessig wrote that broad form deeds allowed early Appalachian mine operators to victimize farmers.
"The landowner was paid a small royalty and expected little interference with his farming," he said. However, ravages ensued. "For example, the mining company could cut the farmer's trees because timbers were needed to brace the roof of the mine tunnels. Likewise, the farmer's fields could be used to pile the mine spoils ....
"Like the broad form deed of West Virginia, the Wisconsin mining bill was written by a mining company .... Mining companies still control the governments of Appalachia. After generations of intense mining, the area is the poorest in the nation."
It's sad that the Mountain State is held up as an example of industry exploitation -- a region used like a colony to bleed off wealth for out-of-state owners, then abandoned.
The sorry history of McDowell County was retraced recently by reporter Paul Nyden. He recounted how booming coal mines once provided thousands of jobs and made the county seat, Welch, a beehive of prosperity. But mines played out and McDowell sank into poverty, forgotten by departed coal firms.
"There were 100,000 people in McDowell County in the 1950s," said Assessor Dennis Altizer. "Today, there are about 22,000 residents."
Boarded-up storefronts and other vacancies now make Welch partly a ghost town. Jobs at prisons offer the best glimmer of hope. The county lost 5,000 more people between 2000 and 2010. Coal's legacy is ugly.The Central Appalachian coal field slowly is fading, because easy-to-reach seams are depleted and soaring Marcellus Strata gas is cheaper. It's disheartening that the once-thriving region now is cited as a symbol of industry ruthlessness.