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Coal quandary


AFTER West Virginia's largest church challenged mountaintop removal mining, the Daily Mail scoffed that United Methodists offer no alternative "economic development plan for Southern West Virginia."

It's true that a big decapitation mine can provide more than 200 high-paying jobs - until the coal is gone. But the final result won't be economic development for Southern West Virginia. Coal regions always are poor, looted, polluted and eventually discarded.

Giant profits from West Virginia mines go to out-of-state corporations that own the coal fields. The firms pay only a pittance in property taxes, and their millionaire executives don't pay this state's income tax. Their trucks destroy West Virginia roads. They bleed the Mountain State as a colony.

Mountaintop removal is making West Virginia a world symbol of industrial damage, spotlighted in magazine, television and newspaper reports.

The Methodist resolution, we think, conveyed this message: West Virginians - people who actually live here - have a right to complain when their beloved mountains are ripped into abnormal- looking plateaus. It wounds mountaineer souls. A Lutheran synod in the Eastern Panhandle likewise opposed mountaintop removal. But West Virginians can't expect help from the state's so-called "environmental protection" officials. They're mostly former coal executives still loyal to the absentee owners. For example, reporter Ken Ward Jr. found that most of West Virginia's decapitation mines are illegal. They lack after-mining land-use plans, as required by federal law. But the state gave them permits, anyway.

Another federal violation apparently occurred when Gov. Underwood, a former coal executive, chose two coal executives in sequence as the state's environmental protection director, violating a federal conflict-of-interest law. The second appointment triggered an activist lawsuit. We hope the suit ends the favoritism which the state government has shown to mountain-destroyers.

Mountaintop removal is changing West Virginia forever. Familiar rugged crests - the "summits bathed in glory" of the state anthem - are being hacked into undulating cuts and massive fills. State regulators are assisting the out-of-state exploiters.

Many West Virginians, such as the United Methodist delegates, see the dismal transformation and wish they had power to curb it. That's the bottom line in the current struggle.

Nobody can restore the mountains that already have been gutted. The only question is how many more will follow.

(article of "The Charleston Gazette")