A task force to examine mountaintop removal coal mining will hold its first meeting Monday afternoon, the governor's office announced Friday.The 17-person group will hear brief remarks from Gov. Cecil Underwood and then get down to work, said Marshall University President J. Wade Gilley, chairman of the panel.Plans for the task force's work, though, are still mostly up in the air."I don't want to structure it myself," Gilley said Friday. "I want to give the individual members that opportunity."
Underwood, a staunch supporter of mountaintop removal, appointed the task force in mid-May, following growing citizen complaints and negative press reports about the mining practice.The task force has been largely written off by environmental and citizen groups, however, because it is made up mostly of industry officials or consultants. Only one member, John McFerrin, is representative of state environmental groups.Gilley said some members of the group have already asked him to contract West Virginia University's business school to prepare a study of the economic impact of surface mining.Others, Gilley said, want the panel to seek an independent analysis of how coal mining regulation in West Virginia compares to that in other states.Gilley added that there may be some discussion and analysis of water quality impacts of mining, or of the effects of blasting on communities near mountaintop mines.The panel may also visit some mountaintop removal mines, and hold public hearings so various interest groups can voice their opinions.Underwood's executive order creating the task force, signed June 10, instructed members to:Study the effective of mountaintop removal and related mining practices on the environment, the economy and the citizens of the state.Seek the advice and recommendation of interested and vested constituency groups in the form of white papers submitted to the task force to help it formulate its findings.Issue a report of their findings to the governor by Dec. 1.The group's first meeting will be 1 p.m. in the governor's conference room, near the secretary of state's office at the Capitol. To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702