DECADES ago, West Virginia drew attention as a symbol of poverty. Now it's becoming a symbol of industrial desecration.Tuesday's ABC "Nightline" gave the world a stark look at what mountaintop-removal mining is doing to the state that some boosters call "the Switzerland of America."Millions of viewers saw horrifying scenes of decapitated mountains, once-majestic terrain gutted by 20-story-tall machines. They also heard laments from rural West Virginians who have been driven out of the hills and valleys they loved.The network show - like a U.S. News & World Report photo feature a few months earlier - presented West Virginia as a land ravaged by out-of-state corporations. Numerous Gazette reports have documented this damage, and now the national media are displaying it.Tourism is hailed as West Virginia's future, but how many Americans will want to vacation at a place where mountain grandeur was turned into a moonscape?The state's image will be one of obliteration. Even when mountaintop strip mines are "restored" with greenery, the land is abnormal. It doesn't look like mountains.
Under the circumstances, you'd think state leaders would do everything possible to curtail mountaintop removal. But the Legislature and Gov. Cecil Underwood are trying to expand it.Lawmakers passed a bill making it cheaper for owners to cut off peaks and dump the "spoil" into valleys. Underwood signed the bill, even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and his own Division of Environmental Protection urged him to veto it."Nightline" host Ted Koppel said West Virginia now has 75 decapitation-type mines. The number surely will grow, thanks to the cost reduction.Underwood's action reflected his orientation. He's a former coal executive who remains loyal to the out-of-state corporations that own vast sections of West Virginia. But why did so many legislators do their bidding?As we've said many times, West Virginia should stop handing giveaways to the absentee owners who exploit the state as a colony. They don't pay the state's income tax because they live elsewhere, and their property taxes are absurdly low. They provide fewer and fewer jobs, switching to monster machines instead.The EPA has threatened to take control of West Virginia's program to police valley fills from mountaintop-removal mines. (Like many coal executives, Underwood sneers at the EPA.)Frankly, we hope the federal agency does so - because it's clear that state leaders will do nothing to prevent West Virginia from being turned into a moonscape.