Coal Tattoo

Manchin: W.Va. floods are “an act of God”


Gov. Joe Manchin has visited the flood-devastated areas of Mingo County several times over last weekend and since. And he’s said the state will do everything it can to help out those who were hit by this round of Southern West Virginia flooding.

But what else has the governor been up to?

Well, I caught a little bit of his discussion with Hoppy Kercheval (who is broadcasting live from Gilbert) on MetroNews Talkline.The governor was praising local coal companies (including Massey Energy and Buck Harless’ International Industries) for sending out heavy equipment and crews to help with the cleanup. Manchin didn’t mention — at least while I was listening — that in at least two cases, coal mining operations were at least partly responsible for the damage.

And then when I got to work, a reader had forwarded me a link from Rise Up! West Virginia, a blog that opposes mountaintop removal.  The blog outlined a story by Debra McCown in today’s Bristol Herald-Courier in Tennessee.

Apparently, Manchin took time out on Tuesday to head over to Kingsport, Tenn., and speak at the annual conference of the Eastern Coal Council, a regional industry group. In that speech, Manchin continued his praise for coal industry response to the flood and went a little farther, according to McCown:

Manchin praised coal companies for helping to clear the roads after “horrendous” flooding in the state over the past few days that he said was caused not by extensive strip mining but by “an act of God.”


As I’ve tried to explain a couple of times since the weekend, it’s hard to say exactly how much a particular strip mine contributed to flooding in a particular hollow. (See previous posts here and here) You have to examine the site-specific hydrology and mining operation involved. WVDEP should do that — but its inspectors are more geared toward going to see if they find any violations. No violations? Then nothing happens. This doesn’t explain whether mining (and timbering for that matter) made things worse in Mingo County.

It’s hard to imagine that it didn’t, given the  clear science that shows large-scale surface mining — mountaintop removal — contributes to increases in peak discharges during heavy storms. Erica Peterson over at West Virginia Public Broadcasting did a piece on this issue that said essentially the same thing:

On Sunday, Paul Noe was helping his sister clean mud out of her home.

“And each and every time it gets larger,” Noe said. “So the next one will be bigger. The same amount of rain, these creeks just fill in. The water does not have nowhere to go. They’ve done all this mountaintop removal and timber and gas line and all of that, and everything just fills these valleys in.”

Varney is surrounded on all sides by active and inactive mines. So he’s not the only resident to blame the mining and timber industries for increased flooding.Scientists who have looked at the issue say yes, mining and timbering can increase the severity of flooding – but it’s complicated.

Yes. It is complicated. And, as Peterson pointed out, WVDEP after the 2001 and 2002 floods put in place some new regulations to try to mitigate mining’s impacts. But were those regulations enough? Is WVDEP even going to ask?

You have to wonder about that, when you hear Gov. Manchin declaring it all an “Act of God.”

Oh, and that’s not all that Manchin said in his speech to that industry group in Tennessee. He also criticized efforts by Congress and the Obama administration to deal with global warming and offered another total defense of mountaintop removal, as McCown explained:

Carbon legislation soon up for debate in Congress could “make shambles out of this economy” by drastically increasing the price of energy, Manchin said, and all who see the need for coal should rally while economic concerns appear to trump environmental concerns in politics.

“This country is not going to be a world power without energy that is dependable and reliable, and that comes from coal,” Manchin said, adding that he is “fighting the good fight” for the economy.

Coal, he said, must be used as a bridge until a “fuel of the future” is found. And politicians, he said, must realize the danger of environmental regulation that could cost America its industrial might.

“Now is the time to bring the facts out. If you want to win this war, the economy trumps everything right now and we’ve got a golden opportunity,” Manchin said. “As soon as this economy turns around, I guarantee you the environment will trump us and we’re dead.”

Manchin also defended mountaintop removal, a method of strip mining that involves blasting away mountain peaks; he said the flat land it creates allows for development that his state and the region wouldn’t have otherwise.

“If I say in West Virginia that we are basically using every bit of disturbed land to enhance the quality of life … how in the world can a person look at me and say that’s not responsible, you can’t do that, you shouldn’t because you’re altering it,” Manchin said.

“I have a piece of land that produces very little taxes if any, it takes 50 years before you can harvest the timber, and I’ve got no tax base for the school system… . How can anybody tell me that’s what’s best for the people of West Virginia?”