Whose Monument Is It?
Keep Miner, Ditch Industry Rhetoric at New Coal Memorial
by Vivian Stockman
In 1999, the WV Legislature approved erecting a statue of a
West Virginia coal miner on the State Capitol grounds, "as a lasting
memorial to the many who have perished as a result of coal mining in the
state." While environmental and citizens groups fully support a memorial
honoring miners, we had to protest the way the West Virginia Coal Association
warped the original intent of the resolution.
In mid-October 2002, the base for the statue went up,
revealing bronze plaques that seemingly move the WV Coal Associations public
relations efforts off billboards and onto the State Capitol grounds. One
plaque features the controversial and legally questionable practice of
mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining.
Nowhere in the Legislatures resolution is it stated that
the monument will include a plaque honoring the draglines of mountaintop
News stories revealed that another proposed plaque may
include wording that is a virtual coal industry ad: "In recognition of the
men and women who have devoted their careers to providing the state, country and
world with low-cost household and industrial energy."
Coal miner's wife and a Coal River Mountain Watch leader, Patty Sebok (center)
speaks out on the State Capitol grounds in favor of honoring miners, not
machines that take their jobs. Behind her is the plaque that depicts mountaintop
removal/valley fill strip mining. With her, left to right, are Winter Ross,
Regina Hendrix, Dave Cooper, Connie Chojnaki, Bob Henry Baber, Mel Tyree and
How did honoring lives lost become honoring careers dedicated
to "low-cost energy?" This phrasing is especially offensive when you
consider what miners, the public and the environment have endured from the coal
industry for over 100 years. Our lives and our land are not cheap!
The WV Coal Association says these plaques depict the history
of mining. If that is what they want to do in this public place, lets tell
the whole story. That would have to include mention of (and this is far
from an exhaustive list!):
Miners jobs lost to the machines depicted on these plaques and to
union-busting coal company tactics;
Communities, mountains and streams lost to mountaintop removal;
Surface and groundwater forever destroyed or heavily polluted by valley fills,
sludge impoundments and blackwater spills;
Miners lives lost to mine wars, tragedy and lung disease
Democracy lost to political corruption.
Members of OVEC, Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia
Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Environmental Council and Citizens Coal
Council gathered around the mountaintop removal plaque on Oct. 21, 2002. The
brothers and sisters and daughters and sons and grandchildren of miners spoke
their outrage at what the WV Coal Association has done with this memorial that
was supposed to be about their families, but is instead an etched-in-bronze coal
industry propaganda piece.
The groups delivered a letter to the Capitol Building
Commission and the Governor, noting that if this public monument is to truly
honor miners lives and tell the history of the coal industry, coal-related
tragedies must be included.
Otherwise, the monument should feature only the statue of the
miner and a plaque that is a carefully worded memorial to those who have lost
their lives to the coal industry. Coal industry ads and the bronze memorials to
its criminal behavior should be removed from this monument in the most prominent
public place in West Virginia.
On Jan. 2, 2003, the Capitol Building Commission met to hear
our grievances on the West Virginia Coal Associations planned monument. At
the end of the meeting the Commission said it had no authority about what was on
the base of the statue. So, does the WV Coal Association get to interpret the
resolution and have final say over what goes on this monument on our state
Didnt anyone privy to what would be on the base of this
statue question the WV Coal Association when they said there would be a plaque
honoring those who have "dedicated their careers to providing low-cost
energy" on this memorial that was supposed to honor miners? Who defines
"low cost" energy? The people driven from their communities by
mountaintop removal? The miners who have lost their lives? If, as
the WV Coal Association says, this monument is intended to honor the economic
impact of coal to the state, and to tell the whole story of coal, then
there are some very important elements missing.
If the monument is about coals economic impacts,
wheres the plaque featuring Ole King Coal stuffing a politicians pocket?
Where are the plaques for the missing workers comp money, the billion dollar
super tax credits coal got, (much of which King Coal got for jobs but used for
job-destroying draglines), the bonding crisis, and the all-but-sequestered
abandoned mine land funds?
Judy Bonds at the "Honor Miners, Not Machines" protest in Charleston.
Wheres the plaque for the lost economic value of
ecosystems that are forever destroyed by mountaintop removal, the plaque for
communities ruined water, the plaque for flood-destroyed towns? Wheres the
plaque for the millions in infrastructure damage from overweight coal trucks?
For perpetual costs associated with acid mine drainage? For the poverty-stricken
area the coal industry once touted as the "billion-dollar coalfields"?
To tell the whole story, we are going to need a really big
Also see OVEC's people in action gallery: Honor
Miners, Not Machines that Take Their Jobs