Coal Operators Organize Rally for Mountain Top Removal in Charleston, WV


The Environmental Protection Agency has vetoed the permit for the  Logan County, WV Spruce Number One mine – a symbol of the debate over mountain top removal mining that has been embroiled in litigation since 1998.

In the wake of the defeat of significant carbon reduction by Republican filibusters of the energy bill last session, the Environmental Protection Agency has become more aggressive on doing something about climate change dangers posed by, among other culprits, carbon polluting coal. When combined with additional significant pollution and land degradation associated with mountaintop removal mining. the EPA finally shrugged off intense pressure coming from the oil AND coal industry to continue doing nothing, and took a stand.

Well now, you can hear the coal companies holler cross every holler in the State of West Virginia. Not just them, but their friends in the legislature, state government and communities where the economy – and public services – are heavily dependent on revenues from the coal industry. Coal industry employment has shrunk from over 120,000 direct workers in 1960, to just 20,000 today – out of a workforce of 820,000 people. Nonetheless, while coal employs less than a half a percent of the workforce, it contributes nearly 15 percent of state revenues, mostly through the legacy “severance” tax. This no doubt helps explain the mass turnout of state officeholders, plus the Congressional delegation, to the “Rally for Coal” held in the capital, Charleston, a week ago Thursday to protest the EPA sanction against mountaintop removal.

About 400 defenders of coal cheered the importance of coal in energy policy, some claiming it was “God’s will” that coal be both mined and burned. Others denying climate change, or just pointing out the absence of alternative jobs, or political hacks whose paychecks are directly or indirectly signed by the coal companies joined the crowd.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin chaired the “Rally" inside the state Capitol. He called upon the Rev. Mitchell Bias, from the Delbarton Regional Church of God,  to deliver God's Word on the subject. "Coal is your will. You placed it here on earth. It is part of your master plan," Bias said. He prayed to God that 2011 "will be safe and secure for mining and the most prosperous year for mining." Some of the Reverend's people attending the rally wore black "Friends of Coal" T-shirts reading, "Pro-Christ, Pro-Life, Pro-American, Pro-Guns, Pro-Coal ... Republican."

Back on earth, Marie Gunnoe, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said “Mountaintop removal is no longer a jobs issue. It is a health issue. They are killing us by destroying our mountains and destroying our water. Six generations of my family have lived there. We have every right to stay there. Don't we have the right to protect our water?"
There were a couple of hundred opponents of mountaintop mining as well, including both coal miners and longtime residents from coal districts of West Virginia. The theme of the opponents was: “the mountains in West Virginia are now worth a lot more standing, than they are being torn down.” So agreed state delegate John Doyle, a delegate from Jefferson county (in the panhandle – not in coal country), who added, “Tourism and knowledge based industries must be our future.” The coal lobby is not pushing in that direction, clearly.

The United Mine Workers in WV has taken an agnostic position – not challenging climate change science, or the need for “clean coal”, but clearly concerned about any threat to jobs. The Spruce Mine – vetoed by the EPA – would have been a $250 million dollar investment promising 250 jobs.

Of course these particular jobs would be non-Union. Only a tiny amount of mountaintop removal mining jobs are unionized (less than five percent).

Meanwhile, West Virginia ranks 49 in personal income. For all the wealth that mining coal creates, it has not had much spillover in terms of overall economic development for the state.

Moderate political forces at the rally, fearful of overly offending coal, but still not entirely numb about the science – and dangers – of carbon pollution and environmental degradation from mountaintop removal mining – called for more focus on “clean coal.” In the past this has turned out to be just a code word for the slogan’s nickname, which is just “coal!!.” The EPA decision compels the coal industry, and their supporters – to put some skin in the game when they say “clean.”

Rocked by nine percent unemployment and increasing pressure to adjust its economic development philosophy – West Virginia must begin looking to the future, not the past, for answers. But we are not quite there yet! But WE WILL MAKE IT!

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