Winds of Change Newsletter, September 2006 See sidebar for table of contents
We care, We Count, WE VOTE!
Are You Ready for Some ... Coal Ball? FOC (says) Yes!
by Janet Keating
Just when you think youve heard it all regarding the coal industrys domination of state politics along comes the Coal Bowl.
For the next seven years, Big Coal will promote itself to a captive audience within Marshall Universitys or West Virginia Universitys football stadiums dishing out some rah-rah, feel-good noise to tens of thousands of West Virginians.
The two state-owned universities arrangement with the Friends of Coal (FOC) will even allow FOCer emblems on the players helmets. In return, the universities will split $140,000 per year a paltry sum compared to the billions of dollars of profits that the industry extracted from the state. West Virginia sure does sell itself cheaply.
Polluters have long used the technique of "buying" public and institutional support as an effective way of silencing detractors or at least keeping criticism to a minimum (the Massey Energy picnics, for example). Undoubtedly, "public relations" is cheaper than complying with environmental laws and regulations.
And how did this cozy relationship between the universities and the coal industry came about? Was it put out to bid? Like underground mining the deal was apparently done "in the dark" though its a safe bet Gov. Manchin may have known.
No other industry or organization was granted an opportunity to bid for the rights. Is that the way open government and democracy is supposed to work? Should public institutions, supported by tax-payer dollars, be dominated so thoroughly by a single industry? This latest deal underscores how coal "pays the piper" and then calls the tune.
Sadly, Rich Rodriguez, the current WVU football coach, is ready to follow in the questionable footsteps of former coach Don Nehlen, another FOCer spokesman (who thought the state needed to chuck all those goldarn environmental regulations placed on the coal industry).
Rodriguez was quoted: "Coal is a part of everything good in the Mountain State, so its natural that the Friends of Coal would jump in and become a part of this game. I know all football fans in the state appreciate their generous support."
"A part of everything good?" Like 400,000-acres of stripped and decapitated mountains? "Good" like nearly 2,000 miles of streams smothered beneath coal mining waste? "Good" like drinking water wells apparently so polluted by underground injection of toxic coal sludge that residents have to pressure the state to get potable water? Or "good" like sending your little child to a school adjacent to a giant coal processing plant, a coal silo, and a 2.8 billion gallon toxic coal waste lake topped off with a mountaintop removal site?
Coal Association president Bill Raney said he hoped that the football games would "put the spotlight on the proud working people in the coal industry." Indeed, the aim of coals latest public relations ploy may be to deflect criticism, buy goodwill, and cover a host of bad publicity.
OVEC exposes the ways in which the coal industry wields its power and influence. See our reports at www.wvoter-owned.org. One thing they show is that since 1996, coal and its supporters have contributed more than $4 million to political campaigns of state candidates running for various offices.
Lets face it. Our political system is broken. The officials we elect to represent us instead spend their time chasing big campaign checks and using their votes to do political favors for big-money special interests and lobbyists like Big Coal.
Its time to do something about it and we can.
By enacting a system of public financing for elections we can cut the ties between politicians and the big-money special interests and lobbyists who currently fund their campaigns.
Its called Clean Elections. Its already working in seven states and two cities across the country.
Under Clean Elections, qualified candidates who agree to forgo all private contributions and follow strict spending limits receive public financing for their campaigns, freeing them from having to chase campaign donations from big money special interests and lobbyists. Clean Elections is a constitutional, creative alternative.
We are working to establish a Clean Elections system here in West Virginia. Isnt it about time that the public interest comes before Big Coal? Now that would be something to really cheer about!