Winds of Change Newsletter, March 2010 See sidebar for table of contents
Coalfield Residents and Scientists Meet with Governor
Bo Webb, a resident of Rock Creek, WV, a Vietnam war veteran and someone whose home is adversely affected by mountaintop removal, doesnt take no for an answer.
In December when Governor Joe Manchin met with representatives from the coal industry, county commissioners from southern West Virginia, state agency representatives and other politicos, Webb knew the governor was only hearing half the story. He contacted the governors office to ask that the governor meet with those living in the shadow of mountaintop removal.
After a lot of wrangling over the governors proposed agenda, the meeting was finally set for late January.
Bo and others hoped that the governors attendees would be there to listen to the many different concerns regarding mountaintop removal/steep-slope strip-mining of coal.
Invitees of the governor included Congressman Nick J. Rahall, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito, and staff members from Congressman Mollohans and Senators Byrd and Rockefellers offices.
State Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin was there briefly; House Speaker Richard Thompson and several southern West Virginia county commissioners stayed for the entire meeting. People seated around the edges included Randy Huffman, Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.
Speakers outside the coalfield delegation, including the governor, spoke about the need to balance energy demands and job growth with safeguards for the environment , drinking water and streams, cultural heritage and our communities.
Webb thanked the governor and others who had gathered and wisely spoke about the common bond of everyone in the room a love for West Virginia. He acknowledged that coal will play a role in our economy and energy future for a while.
He then turned the microphone over to Dr. Ben Stout, a scientist from Wheeling Jesuit University who tests streams and drinking water wells throughout the southern coalfields. Ben said people there ask, "What is wrong with my water?" The answer: arsenic, lead and other toxic heavy metals.
The next speaker was Dr. Michael Hendryx, a health researcher from West Virginia University who has for the past three and a half years been studying the effects of coal mining on people s health. He noted that the more he looks, the more he sees that people living near mining operations have "significantly higher death rates," even after adjusting for other factors like age, lifestyle, etc.
He acknowledged that poverty plays a role and is part of the problem and said that there is a direct correlation between coal mining and poverty. He finished with a plea for greater investment in diversifying the economy and for investing in public education.
Rory McIlmoil, an analyst and researcher for Downstream Strategies and the author of the study that shows the excellent wind resources on an intact Coal River Mountain, alerted the attendees to a report just released by his consulting firm that details the decline of coal in the Central Appalachian region.
Judy Bonds, 2003 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, had several questions for the governor and others, "What are you going to do to stop the impacts to communities and people?" "What are you going to do about the blasting and water pollution?" She pleaded that the impacts to people be stopped and noted that the issue is not a choice between mayflies and jobs, but between lives and livelihoods.
The next speaker was Maria Gunnoe, OVECs community outreach organizer in Boone County, who won the 2009 Goldman Environmental Prize. She indicated that she organizes in communities where UMWA miners live. She has seen mountaintop removal depopulating communities like Lindytown.
She emphasized that many people are standing together. She said that we are running short on coal, patience and mountains, but that we have an opportunity to save the mountains and communities that are left.
Vernon Haltom, co-director of Coal River Mountain Watch, spoke about balance, and questioned whether someones job was worth the same as another persons life. He suggested that enforcing current state and federal mining laws would go a long way toward helping to protect people, communities and the environment.
He stated that the DEP should be the peoples first line of defense against coal dust and blackwater (coal sludge) spills. Instead, citizens are forced to go to federal agencies for relief because the DEP turns a deaf ear to our pleas.
West Virginia Environmental Councils lead lobbyist Don Garvin implored those present to take a look at the WVEC legislative agenda and said that our nation needs to be serious about creating a post-fossil-fuel economy "if we are going to save the planet."
Bob Kincaid spoke passionately of his granddaughters reaction to blasting caused by mountaintop removal, and of how he refused to tell her that everything would be all right. The truth is, he wasnt sure when or if things would be all right.
OVECs executive director Janet Keating said the notion that our state needs to "balance" jobs with environmental concerns is ludicrous. When we are blasting ancient mountain peaks to recover coal, poisoning water supplies with toxic coal sludge waste, destroying streams and forests, annihilating entire communities and harming human health the need is to restore the balance.
Beloved native-daughter country singer Kathy Mattea ended the meeting with a heartfelt song by Jean Ritchie. Gov. Manchin gave final remarks, adjourned the meeting and opened a press conference. In his blog Coal Tattoo, Ken Ward Jr. reported:
Manchin emerged from a long meeting with coalfield citizens and issued a call for an end to threats and intimidation against West Virginians who are fighting to stop mountaintop removal:
"We will not in any way, shape or form in this state of West Virginia tolerate any violence against anyone on any side. If youre going to have the dialogue, have respect for each other."
Manchin also promised he would look into citizen complaints about lax enforcement of strip-mining rules by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, but he certainly wasnt persuaded to drop his strong support for mountaintop removal. He said he told the citizens they would have to agree to disagree about that one.
The day after the meeting, the governor asked the Legislature to approve resolutions "affirming that coal is still king in West Virginia," according to the Associated Press.