Letter to the editor originally provided by The Charleston Gazette
January 28, 2000
Mountaintop removal hurts state's past and its future
As director of West Virginia's Division of Forestry, it was 1996 before I fully realized the magnitude and permanent elimination of West Virginia's forestland in the southern and central coalfields by mountaintop removal of coal. A helicopter tour of these areas and the results of an updated forest inventory disclosed not only the size and rate of deforestation, but the loss of West Virginia's mountain culture.
Since the federal Surface Mining Act of 1977 was enacted, all of West Virginia's governors and legislators of both parties have been very supportive of the illegal variances in this law that allowed mountaintop removal of coal. I served at the pleasure of governors of both parties from 1993 to 1998.
I wish to make it clear that while I was head of the Forestry Division I attempted to work within the system to encourage the West Virginia Mining and Reclamation Association and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to prevent further devastation. The only concession was to make my professional proposals an option, as opposed to mandatory.
Mountaintop removal has already caused long-term problems and until Judge Charles Haden's II ruling, the rate was increasing. I resigned as a matter of principle, for I did not want to share in the blame nor guilt for the loss of West Virginia's heritage through the loss of our forested mountains.
In West Virginia, from 1977 to 1997, 300,000 acres were made into a moonscape by the decapitation of our mountains. Vast areas of our Mountain State are made uninhabitable for our citizens.
The rate of decapitation of our mountains had increased to 30,000 acres annually. It will take 150 to 200 years before trees would become re-established following such a drastic mining practice.
All native plant and animals are practically eliminated (not to mention the impact on threatened & endangered species).
The headwaters of hundreds of miles of our streams are filled with millions of tons of mountaintops (overburden.)
This irresponsible excavation of coal makes the landscape so unsightly that it ruins tourism. (I can't envision tourists coming to see these barren wastelands!)
Isn't tourism supposed to be our growth industry?
The timber and wood products industry employs some 30,000 in West Virginia.
Prior to mountaintop removal, all of West Virginia's 11 million acres of forests were producing substantial volumes of high-value timber. Trees are our only renewable natural resource.
There are about 17,000 jobs in coal mining. The mining industry projects the coal reserves to be depleted within 20 years.
Mountaintop removal of coal employs just a few hundred of these workers.
It is a sad irony that mountaintop removal actually destroys more coal mining jobs than it creates; union miners are expediently replaced by relatively few heavy-equipment operators.
Maxey resigned as director of the Division of Forestry in November 1998.