Union coal miners agreed with environmental activists Monday evening that more needs to be done to address public concerns over mountaintop removal mining.Miners from Boone and Logan counties told a gubernatorial task force they want to keep their jobs, but don't want to harm nearby residents in the process."Local people can sit down and solve local problems," said John Hardin, a United Mine Workers member who works at Arch Coal Inc.'s Hobet 21 complex along the Boone-Lincoln county line.In their first public hearing and their second meeting, task force members also heard staunch coal industry defenses of mountaintop removal and a barrage of complaints about the hearing's format.The 17-member panel met Monday evening at the Marshall University Graduate College campus in South Charleston.Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, recited a list of statistics about coal's economic impacts on the state. He said all of it would be lost if mountaintop removal mines were more strongly regulated."The opponents of mountaintop removal say they don't want to harm the mining industry," Raney said. "But if these practices aren't allowed to continue, everyone will suffer - the industry, the state and everyone who looks to us to secure the state's future."James Weekley, who lives in the path of a proposed mountaintop removal mine at Blair in Logan County, said the practice actually costs the state jobs by allowing coal companies to mine more coal with fewer workers."This mountaintop removal is a massacre to our mountains, our valleys and our streams," Weekley said. "And this high-tech mining is definitely taking jobs."Ben White, a spokesman for the Logan County Development Authority, asked why environmentalists don't criticize other types of mountaintop removal, such as that used to build shopping centers like Southridge Centre.White also argued that mountaintop removal will provide more flat land for development."You can't find these sites readily, and I think there is a need for them," White said.Monday's meeting was held under unusually tight security for such an event.At least four State Police troopers, as well as private security guards, attended. In a meeting announcement, Marshall President Wade Gilley, chairman of the task force appointed by Gov. Cecil Underwood, told panel members, "We have arranged for security, including the State Police."Jim Sconyers, a representative of the state Sierra Club, asked why those attending had to sign up and check off whether they were for or against mountaintop removal."That's so oversimplifying that it's ridiculous," Sconyers said. "It seems to fly in the face of democracy."Logan County coal operator Rick Abraham, who brought a busload of miners to the meeting, agreed."I don't find the issue that simple," Abraham said. "Against what? For what? The mitigation bill or mining in general?"Victoria Moore of Blair complained that her 8-year-old son, Dustin, had to sign in, agree to speak, and indicate where he stood on the issue to be able to sit with his mother.Under Gilley's rules, only those speaking at the hearing were in the same cramped conference room as the task force members. Other spectators had to watch the hearing on closed-circuit television sets in other parts of the building.The arrangement forced not only Dustin Moore, but 10-year-old Kayla Bragg, to address the task force.Bragg told the miners at the hearing: "I'm not trying to take your jobs. I wouldn't do that. I'm a coal miner's daughter. I just know I don't want my home torn up."
To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.