Coal Tattoo


Well,  I spent much of the day chasing possible follow-up stories to the big EPA initiative to start more closely reviewing mountaintop removal coal mining permits.

The result?

We had a series of blog posts giving readers the views from various political leaders and the United Mine Workers (we had lots of reaction from industry and environmental groups the previous day).   And, I wrote a story for the print edition about the Corps of Engineers kind of thumbing its nose at the White House and EPA, by issuing a permit the day after EPA said it wanted to look at those permits first.

In that story, I was able to include a few quotes from Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, in which Lovett urged West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin to consider looking beyond mountaintop removal to a shift to more underground mines and to other kinds of jobs, including things like reclaiming abandoned mines or producing clean energy.

“If the governor wants to fight for jobs in West Virginia, he should support EPA’s decision, and help it make a transition away from this most destructive form of mining to a less destructive form of mining. I think it’s clear that mountaintop removal is a job-destroying, rather than a job-creating, form of mining.”

Here’s a  little more of what Lovett told me this afternoon:

Gov. Manchin is supporting the short-term interest of the coal operators, instead of the long-term interests of the rest of our state.

We’ve going to continue to mine coal. The only question is what method we will use to mine the coal. Supporting mountaintop removal is supporting coal operators, not workers or the environment.

Coal Tattoo readers are commenting on the blog about this, too, and I’m pleased to see folks wanting to have the kind of discussion I suggested last week that West Virginia and other coal-producing states in Appalachia need to have. See A turning point for mountaintop removal? and  Obama AML plan: Green jobs for the coalfields.

Unfortunately, most of the mainstream media in West Virginia are focused on fear — on the same old fears that the coal industry, and most every other industry, tries to foster when threatened by tougher regulation. The widely distributed Associated Press dispatch today, for example, actually started out like this:

The Obama administration’s decision to hold coal mining permits to a high environmental standard has struck a note of economic fear in Appalachia, where mining — including the kind of mining that blows up mountaintops — has been a shield against hard times afflicting the rest of the nation.

But around the country, through the magic of the blogosphere — at The Huffington Post to be more specific — there’s a completely different discussion going on, and I wanted to share a little of what they had to say.

First, there’s a long analysis from Matt Wasson,  the interim director of Appalachian Voices. I was glad to see a number of things in Matt’s piece, most of all his response to those who might scoff at the loss of 14,000 surface mining jobs in the eastern coalfields:

But this misses a number of important points. In defense of the mining industry, 14,000 fairly high paying jobs mean a lot in this region, which is among the poorest in the country and already suffers rampant unemployment.

That’s the kind of thing we need to see more of from both sides in this debate — a recognition that the other side has a few valid points.

I’m not going to repeat the entire analysis here.  Just suffice it to say that his analysis paints a picture that is quite different from what the coal industry and the politicians have been saying over the last 24 hours.

Coal Tattoo readers can go to link and check it out themselves. I also want to spend some more time with Matt’s figures and see what I make of them. I’d like to challenge some of you smart folks in the coal industry out there to do the same, and Coal Tattoo will be pleased to publish your responses.

Next, there’s another Huffington Post piece by Jeff Biggers,  in which Jeff urges Obama “green jobs” adviser Van Jones to head straight to Mingo County, W.Va., to learn about the green jobs that might be available there at a proposed biomass facility.

I hope some of West Virginia’s political leaders and their smart staffers (come on guys, you know who I’m talking to here) will give these Huffington Post pieces a read. I’m going to be checking in to see if you did, and asking for some responses.

Some folks in the environmental community believe they lost the PR battle a decade ago after the first ruling by Judge Haden. And they’re determined — through not just PR, but analysis and academic studies and the like — to not let that happen again.

“We are not going to be caught on our heels this time,” Lovett told me. “We are going to have a real debate about all of this.”