West Virginia Environmental Council Calls For Mining Moratorium

At the close of its 10th annual meeting on September 13 at Beverly, WV, the West Virginia Environmental Council (WVEC) issued a call for Governor Cecil Underwood to place an immediate five-year moratorium on new permits for mountaintop removal/valley fill strip mining in the state.

In addition, the WVEC said it will continue using legal actions to oppose all permitted mountaintop removal mining projects that are being done without a valid, federally required post-mining use plan.

"The public doesnít like mountaintop removal," said Norm Steenstra, WVEC spokesman. "Every week thereís another story about it. Every week thereís another letter to the editor. Those letters arenít coming from us - theyíre coming from West Virginians who donít like whatís happening to their mountains."

Almost 100 environmentalists from across West Virginia gathered at the Randolph County 4-H Camp from September 11 through13 for the tenth meeting of the environmental council, which serves as the umbrella organization for scores of groups around the Mountain State.

After an intense debate about the controversial mining practice that is leveling dozens of square miles at a time, conference participants agreed an immediate moratorium will give state and federal officials time to gather critical data about the long-term environmental effects of mountaintop removal mining, which regulatory officials admit are largely unknown.

The WVEC is currently involved in separate lawsuits challenging the legality of mountaintop removal/valley fill strip mines on the grounds that virtually all such mines are violating the post-mining use clause of the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act; and the appointment of former coal industry official Michael Miano as director of the state Division of Environmental Protection in violation of federal law.

Other highlights of the WVECís proposed 1999 action agenda include:

_ opposing electric utility deregulation, and calling for energy conservation and renewable energy provisions as new regulations even without deregulation.

"This is one of the most important issues we as a council have faced," WVEC President Jim Kotcon of Morgantown said Sunday at the final session. "This is going to be on our action agenda for 1999."

_ adequate funding for the DEPís Office of Water Resources, to collect data required for the federally mandated Total Maximum Discharge Level plans;

_ election reform that would include electronic filing for candidates who spend more than $5,000 for an election, and prohibit commingling of funds, where one elected officials gives funds raised for their campaign to another candidate;

_ federal action to save the endangered Blackwater Canyon for all West Virginians.