Winds of Change Newsletter, December 2010 See sidebar for table of contents
Wood Co. Commission Learns About MTR Impacts
"Wood County may not be a big coal producing county, but we need to know about mountaintop removal because it is affecting our state," County Commissioner Wayne Dunn said.
At the Wood County Commissions meeting on Sept. 2, OVEC staffer Carol Warren teamed with Ted Boettner of the WV Center on Budget and Policy in a presentation to Dunn and fellow commissioners David Blair Couch and Rick Modesitt.
Boettner addressed the economic impact of coal on West Virginias budget, citing a recent collaborative report by Downstream Strategies and the Center for Budget and Policy.
The report noted that coal production in Appalachia has already begun to decline, and that all indicators are that it will continue to do so.
The industry currently employs only a fraction of the number of people it employed in 1960. Coal industry contributions to the states General Revenue Fund account for only about 8 percent of state-generated revenues
Although the industry certainly contributes to the state in employment and severance taxes, there are also legacy costs, such as environmental issues and costs due to unreclaimed and poorly reclaimed mining sites, workers compensation debt, and the effects of the industry on the states roads and bridges.
The document notes, "The total cost of repairing West Virginias roads and bridges damaged by overweight coal trucks is approximately $4.0 billion in total accumulated costs.
"Even if the state were spending $200 million per year to repair and replace the infrastructure as needed, it would take 20 years of repairs and a cessation of coal-truck operations to cover the full cost."
The report concludes that the net cost to the state budget from the coal industry in fiscal year 2009 was $97.5 million.
Warren discussed some of the human and environmental costs of the industry. She noted that the landscapes destroyed by mountaintop removal cannot be fixed, even if attempts are made to reclaim them.
Flooding, too, has become a serious problem because water rushes from the denuded mountaintop removal sites whenever there is heavy rain.
Warren noted that some people have lost everything two or three times. Loss of community is also a factor that can be devastating. When the people of a community are forced to leave the area in which they have lived together for years, the family ties and neighborhood support systems become casualties of the mining operation.
The commissioners viewed a segment of Burning the Future that deals with the difficulties people are having with illnesses caused by coal-related water pollution.
They were surprised to see water filters turn filthy as soon as the tap was turned on, as well as orange and black water running into the sinks.
The commissioners listened to the testimony of people in the film, many of them OVEC members, whose entire communities seem to have been made ill.
Commissioner Wayne Dunn intends to arrange a forum in Wood County at some point in the future at which environmental, health, economic and labor concerns can be discussed.
This future forum will be open to the public and should result in a vigorous exchange of ideas.
(View the entire report at www.downstreamstrategies.com/Documents/reports_publication/DownstreamStrategies-coalWV.pdf).