Coal operators can resolve one issue related to mountaintop-removal mining by planning ways to develop sites after mining is completed, Rep. Bob Wise said.Federal law exempts mountaintop-removal mines from reclaiming the land to its original contour if plans are drawn up for "a higher and better use" for the site, Wise, D-W.Va., said Saturday."Too many permits are relying on forestry and wildlife habitat as a final use," he said. "And when operators prepare their permit applications, too many are just going through the motions."We've got enough fish and wildlife habitat in this state," he said. "We don't need any more."Wise's suggestions will be included in written comments to Gov. Cecil Underwood's task force on mountaintop removal. The task force is taking public comment through Tuesday. The panel is scheduled to meet on Dec. 2 to decide on final recommendations.In comments prepared for the task force, Wise proposed a three-stage approach to resolve disputes over mountaintop removal:1.
Create a planning council that will develop "maximum economic opportunities" from future mountaintop-removal sites;
Continue to study valley fill issues and other environmental effects associated with mountaintop removal and include the results in the process used to review permit applications; in addition, Underwood should submit legislation to correct environmental weaknesses in the state's new mining regulations;3.
Develop and put in place a procedure that will guarantee "swift and timely intervention" for residents who are affected by mountaintop removal.Wise, who was elected to a ninth two-year term earlier this month, said the purpose of the law to turn mountaintop-removal mines into other economically beneficial developments has been ignored."The economic benefits that are supposed to follow completed mountaintop-removal sites have all but ceased," he said.His proposal for a planning council would include the West Virginia Development Office, the West Virginia Housing Development Fund, the state Division of Highways and local economic development officials.The proposal says that the council's purpose would be to impose the federal law's requirement that mountaintop-removal permits be granted only when a plan is in place for economic development after the mining is completed.Wise also suggested that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Division of Environmental Protection should negotiate the terms of the study and begin immediately on a project to determine the extent of damage by mountaintop removal to local water sources.Finally, Wise said, "citizens whose lives are being distressed by mountaintop-removal sites must be assured that their complaints will be swiftly addressed."