Well, West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has made it pretty plain that one of his absolute top priorities is to defend the state’s coal industry and to perpetuate the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining.
So perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise that on Friday — less than a week after he was sworn into office — Gov. Tomblin quietly replaced two of the five members of the state Environmental Quality Board.
Records at the Secretary of State’s office confirm that Tomblin appointed Charles Somerville, a biologist and dean of the College of Science at Marshall University and Mitch Blake, manager of coal programs for the state Geological Survey, to the EQB. They replace Charleston businessman and conservation advocate Ted Armbrecht and James Van Gundy, a retired professor of biology and environmental sciences at Davis & Elkins College.
Now, these changes come at a time when the EQB is set at its December meeting to sort out how it will respond to a circuit court ruling that sent back to it the appeal of an Arch Coal mountaintop removal mine in Monongalia County.
This appeal by the Sierra Club is one of two pending permit challenges (the other is in federal court) that focus on trying to force state and federal regulators to include the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s new water quality guidance into mining permits issued in West Virginia.
WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman had said this about the EQB’s ruling in the case concerning the New Hill West Mine:
This was the worst ruling I’ve ever seen out of the EQB as far as a lack of respect for the rule of law.
EQB members had unanimously ruled that the WVDEP had wrongly failed to set certain water quality limits (see here and here). While Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky sent the case back to the board, the judge did not overturn the foundation of the EQB ruling. And while the EQB recently refused to continue a legal stay on the mining project, board members have also indicated that they would stick by their decision that WVDEP needed to include these limits in any future permit for the mine.
Gov. Tomblin’s action removes from the board two of the members generally considered most friendly to citizen groups. Keep in mind, now, though — the terms of the other three board members (including longtime chairman Ed Snyder) have expired, and the governor could still take some action to replace those folks as well … stay tuned …