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Candidates Agree on Mountaintop Removal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Last week, presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain offered a rare moment of consensus: They agreed that mountaintop removal coal mining should be stopped.

Then, a funny thing happened. No one really attacked them for saying so.

Gov. Joe Manchin didn't want to debate whether Obama and McCain are right or wrong. The governor simply said that the state's regulation of strip mining has been "and will continue to be responsible, and will also always follow the law."

Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers, said that union members don't decide how or where to mine coal. "We just mine it," Smith said.

The National Mining Association provided the toughest reaction. Spokeswoman Carol Raulston pointed out that McCain and Obama both profess to support coal's continued role in the nation's energy supply, and increased government funding for "clean coal" research.

"Both candidates will need to reconcile those facts with their more recently expressed - but less definitive - views on mountaintop mining," Raulston said.

Later this week, lawyers for the coal industry and environmental groups will make what's become a ritual journey to Richmond, Va.

On Tuesday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the latest lawsuit over mountaintop removal. Lawyers for government regulators, coal companies and citizen groups will argue over the legal minutia of the Clean Water Act: Impact assessments, stream functions and mitigation strategies.

Outside of the courtroom, political experts don't expect mountaintop removal to really have much of an impact on whether McCain or Obama gets West Virginia's five electoral votes.

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