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Gov. Underwood's tough issue: Putting mine debris in streams

November 04, 1999

It doesn't even come close to directly affecting the Eastern Panhandle, but the mining practice known as mountaintop removal may be a key to the next West Virginia governor's race. Citizens have to hope this one is resolved so that the would-be governors can debate something really important, like how to bring new jobs to the Mountain State.

Here's the latest: After U.S. District Judge Charles Haden ordered the state Division of Environmental Protection to put a hold on permits that allow coal operators to dump earth and rock into most streams, Gov. Cecil Underwood ordered a freeze on state hiring and spending. Without the tax revenue from that mining, Underwood said he couldn't guarantee there'd be enough money to pay the bills.

Judge Haden has since delayed his ruling while the matter is being appealed in a federal court in Richmond, Va.

Underwood's concern, which we share, is that the matter won't be resolved and the companies now mining will not only be unable to make tax payments, but will have to lay off miners as well.

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Ideally, the mining companies and the state would work out a compromise that would allow mining to continue while the two sides seek a way to dispose the earth and stone removed from mining sites without endangering the state's streams and rivers.

Frankly, however, we don't expect a simple solution and the question will be the one that should be at the heart of the next gubernatorial race - what can the state do to attract industry and better-paying jobs?

One obvious possibility that people have been discussing for years would be to provide incentives for fine furniture makers to produce their products there, instead of just buying West Virginia timber and shipping it to factories in the Carolinas.

State officials may be unsure about the answer now, but we predict that the day is coming when the federal government will no longer excuse the pollution and/or destruction of streams because of economic necessity. It will be up to the next governor to find another way.

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