THERE'S something almost spiritual about the feeling most West Virginians have for the mountains. It shows in songs, postcards, poems, photo books - and in the state anthem lauding "the West Virginia hills, how majestic and how grand, with their summits bathed in glory. ..."That spirit underlies the current battle over mountaintop removal mining, which turns summits into man-made plateaus. People feel wounded when the mountains are wounded.Out-of-state corporations purchased the mountains and feel entitled to gut them or decapitate them as they wish. State regulators aid this process, issuing permits that violate federal law.The absentee owners don't appreciate the pure beauty of mountains. That's obvious in the current West Virginia Coal Bell, published by the strip mine association.
An editorial by Charleston lawyer Fred Holroyd, who represents mine owners, defends decapitation mining and calls a natural mountain "a worthless piece of dirt, good for absolutely nothing, save for snakes and scrub pines.""It seems to me that if a property owner wants to flatten a useless mountaintop, he should not be prevented from doing so," Holroyd says. If any West Virginians wish "to preserve a mountaintop, they should buy it," he adds.This arrogance displays contempt for West Virginians. It implies that billion-dollar absentee corporations can do whatever they want to the state, because they have enough money to buy the mountains - and to hell with the people who must live with the altered landscape. After all, the coal company owners don't live here.The conflict over mountaintop removal mining is being waged in technical language about "water quality control" and the like. But a deeper meaning is half-buried, rarely voiced.Napoleon said "mountain people love their land." He wasn't talking about land that had been artificially flattened by giant machines.