THIS newspaper has already written off the forthcoming efforts of Gov. Cecil Underwood's recently appointed task force on mountaintop mining. This is so because the Gazette opposes mountaintop mining and it perceives that the task force will not. This is so because of the makeup of the task force.Opponents of the coal industry will only give credence to a panel that is loaded against the industry. Anything else they count as loaded the other way. A recent Gazette editorial asserts that the task force is "made up mostly of coal industry lobbyists, consultants, lawyers and supporters."This statement is misleading in the extreme.Count the registered lobbyists on the 17-person panel. There are two. Only one lobbies for the coal industry. Count the lawyers. There are four. One is a legislator, one is a Marshall University dean, one is a former regulatory official and the other is the environmental representative.
The Gazette also has a problem with the fact that three of the four legislative appointees voted in favor of the mitigation bill. In fact, 100 of 131 voting legislators voted that way. That's a little more than three out of four. So, it would seem that the panel accurately reflects the view of the Legislature.It surely was not the intention of the governor to appoint a "jury" with no prior knowledge of the subject matter. It would seem he has accomplished his goal of seating a panel of citizens with technical expertise and experience.Attorney John McFerrin is on the panel to represent the point of view of the environmental community. There are also representatives of the viewpoints of industry, labor and local government, as well as people with expertise in various aspects of the mining and reclamation processes.There would be no logic in appointing a majority of environmentalists. That's exactly how to create a predetermined outcome. In truth, it is doubtful that the task force will indict the practice of mountaintop mining. That's because the controversy is little more than a paper issue created by national media and led by the state's longstanding opponents of the coal industry.By contending that the panel will reach "predetermined conclusions," the Gazette is merely engaging in its usual practice of impugning the integrity of anyone who might have a point of view that differs from its editorial policy.A mountaintop mining study that undoubtedly gets Gazette approval is the quick job done by a faction of the Methodist church. After a fast flyover of two or three mountaintop operations, this small group managed to stampede the church's annual conference into an ill-conceived resolution calling for a ban on mountaintop mining pending further study.In response to the resolution, Gov. Underwood, himself a Methodist, expressed the opinion that the church had stepped "outside of its primary role." The Gazette calls this "lashing out at his own church." How ironic that a newspaper which prides itself on research and high standards of journalism would pre-condemn a six-month study by a panel of experts, while defending a half-baked resolution passed without a day's worth of consideration.It's ironic, but it's not surprising, is it? Miller is vice president of the West Virginia Mining & Reclamation Association.