January 24, 2005
Citizen groups serve to counter governors gagging of DEP
WHITESVILLE, W. VA. -- Environmental groups expressed disappointment with Governors Manchins directive ordering state officials to get approval from his office before answering media inquires. The groups said they werent surprised that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) immediately implemented the order.
We are disappointed the governor has no faith in the citizens employees to provide accurate and complete information to the press, said Coal River Mountain Watch volunteer Vernon Haltom. We are saddened that our governments operations will lose their public transparency and become even more murky, and veiled. However, we are not surprised that DEP chief Stephanie Timmermeyer has jumped on the bandwagon with such enthusiasm.
The DEP can now stop regulating altogether, knowing that responses to media and public inquiry will be delayed, diluted and distorted to the point of becoming meaningless, noted Bo Webb, another volunteer for the group. The DEP can hone its focus on rubber stamping mine permits as directed by the coal industry, which reaps quick profits by raping the mountains. The press will be hamstrung in its attempts to reveal the ongoing abuses to the people and mountains of West Virginia.
Ethical journalists and papers, as well as citizen groups are very effective in getting the truth out about the enormous toll mountaintop removal takes on West Virginias people and environment, said Vivian Stockman, project coordinator for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. In response, the coal industry is waging a multi-million dollar propaganda campaign. Its not surprising that a governor with financial ties to the coal industry wants to control the flow of information in the state. But it is sad, sad for the free press, the peoples right to know and democracy.
Governor Manchin owns Enersystems, which according to the Washington Post, has brokered coal and has conducted other business involving natural resources.
We are ready and able to assist the press in getting the truth to the good citizens of the Mountain State. We receive daily calls from coalfield residents complaining about lack of cooperation from the DEP. Many times we send someone out to talk with them and take a look at the problems they are experiencing. We then attempt to find answers for their problems. We can provide evidence of flawed or illegal permit applications, cited and ignored violations, and views of the destruction of our homeland, said Haltom.
Both Coal River Mountain Watch and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition have a history of being watchdogs of the DEP mining permit division.
We keep watch and we keep records. If DEP isnt going to be cooperative, give us a call. For instance, when West Virginia Coal Association president Bill Raney says that theres no proof that mountaintop removal makes flooding worse, we have the government studies on file that prove it does, Stockman said.
Since our government agencies must now confer with the governor to get their stories straight, we are more than happy to, as ever, strive to deliver accurate, truthful information, Haltom added.