Verizon targeted for support of pro-coal rally

September 1, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


The big Friends of America rally on Labor Day sounds like it’s going to be quite an event, with a crowd, as reported today by my collegue Davin White, that will rival or surpass a Mountaineer home football game.

Folks from Massey Energy and International Coal Group are promoting the event big-time, and it’s obvious that the music and the political message have a huge audience in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia, Eastern Kentucky and beyond.

But now, several major environmental groups are trying to gear up an attack on one of the event’s other corporate sponsors — Verizon Wireless.

Jeff Biggers kicked off the movement with this piece on The Huffington Post,  and West Virginia Blue gets the award for best headline of the week for the post, Can you hear us now?

But two other organizations have also joined the call for Verizon to drop its sponsorship of the event.

First, there’s Credo Mobile, a cell phone company that contributes part of its profits to progressive political causes,  including several that are working to stop mountaintop removal.

On its Web site, Credo asks:

Why is Verizon Wireless co-sponsoring a pro-coal, anti-environment rally on Labor Day?

And it answers:

Companies like Verizon Wireless may say they are not making a political statement when they participate in events like these. But it’s never just about marketing. After all this is the same company that made a decision to block NARAL Pro-Choice America’s text messages from its network. Verizon Wireless has choices. And once again, it’s made a very poor one. 

Then, there’s the Center for Biological Diversity, which today announced it was urging its members and supporters to ask Verizon Wireless to drop out of the event:

On August 30, 2009 the Center notified Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam that it intended to organize a boycott if Verizon did not withdraw sponsorship of the event. In just one day, 14,500 letters were sent to Verizon pressuring the company to retract its sponsorship of the rally.

“Verizon Wireless can’t claim to be “going green” and then join forces with one of the dirtiest companies in the world,” said Tierra Curry, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Verizon can’t keep its hands green and sponsor an event that supports the destruction of Appalachia and the extinction of a third of the earth’s species due to climate change.”

I asked Verizon officials for a response to all of this, and after being kicked around from office to office for a bit, I landed on the phone with Laura Merritt, a Verizon Wireless spokeswoman whose region includes West Virginia.  Her response?

Basically, this was a decision at the local level to support the community. It did not involve the company’s political positions at all.

In this particular situation, we are supporting the event because it’s a local event. It wasn’t an effort to take a position on any particular issue.

Another Verizon Wireless spokesperson, Jim Gerace, went a little farther. He said his company simply paid $1,000 for the right to be able to sell its products at the rally:

It’s nothing more than that … and the groups who are trying to make it more than that are misguided. I’m definitely bothered that people are trying to put us in the middle of an argument.

A couple of interesting things … while much of the blogging on this has focused on the “union-free” nature of the event’s two biggest sponsors, Massey and International Coal Group (a company run by a number of former Massey execs), some of the chatter has missed out on the fact that Verizon Wireless (a subsidiary of the larger Verizon) itself is a non-union company. In fact, it’s a company that has been harshly criticized by the Communications Workers of America for it labor policies.

Another interesting thing is that Verizon has had tons of customer service complaints, resulting in investigations by the West Virginia Public Service Commission and a settlement in which the company agreed to an $11 million plan to improve.

Today, coal industry folks were reacting to the push-back aimed at Verizon …

Gene Kitts, an ICG vice president, tweeted: “Thank you Verizon Wireless for supporting the working people who actually pay the cell phone bills, even for clueless kids.

And Roger Nicholson, general counsel for ICG, added: “[S]hrill cries from anti-mining extremists re Verizon support of FOA rally. Guess it pains em to see overwhelming backlash vs. their views.

I guess it was inevitable that Labor Day would turn into another subplot in the growing mountaintop removal controversy in Appalachia …  and surely coal industry officials expected this kind of response when they invited someone like Lord Christopher Walter Monckton to speak. For more on Monckton’s out-of-the-mainstream views of climate science, click here, here and here.

Oddly silent about all of this has been the United Mine Workers union. The Friends of America rally was scheduled for the same day as the UMWA’s traditional Labor Day picnic and rally down at Racine (an event that’s been going on for 71 years).

But I did get a letter late last month from UMWA President Cecil Roberts, encouraging me to attend the Racine event:

Since the founding of our great union over 119 years ago, the UMWA and our members have helped to create the highest standard of living and the greatest prosperity the world has even known. Yet our struggle is far from over.

As we remember those who came before us and celebrate the work we do today, we will rededicate ourselves to meeting the serious challenges that face working families in today’s economy.

35 Responses to “Verizon targeted for support of pro-coal rally”

  1. Earthling says:

    Everyone be sure to go to the WVA Blue site & read what Ted Nugent said. Tell everyone you know. That should be really good for “Friends of America’s” image.

  2. Phil Smith says:

    Stay tuned…we’ll have something to say.

  3. Clem Guttata says:

    I started this off as a comment and it turned into a full blown post:

    See: Verizon Wireless hits a dead zone

    In a nutshell:

    The explanations from the event sponsors just don’t add up. On the one hand, Verizon Wireless is pretending their sponsorship of an overtly political event has nothing to do with the event’s message. On the other hand, other event sponsors are going out of their way to say it is a political event.

    Verizon Wireless still has no idea how badly they misspent that $1,000.

  4. […] to Coal Tattoo journalist Ken Ward today, Verizon Wireless spokesman Jim Gerace, “said his company simply […]

  5. MizzWV says:

    Yeah for Verizon! Now I know whom my next cellphone service will be through when my contract is up! Go Coal!

  6. Drew says:

    Way to go Verizon! Support WV! Give me a break Gazette, “Anti-Environment??” Absolutely absurd and completely unfounded, just like the posts from “J” and “BamsterMan”.

  7. Clem Guttata says:

    For any conservatives who are suddenly excited about Verizon Wireless as a cell phone provider, you might also like to know they recently dropped all advertising from the Glen Beck show on Fox News channel. They not want to be associated with controversial things he has said.

    MizzWV and Drew —

    I don’t understand why you are giving a thumbs up to Verizon Wireless unless you think their spokespeople are lying. According to Verizon Wireless their sponsorship does not mean they support coal or WV–they just want to be there to sell people stuff.

    Your comments show you support Verizon Wireless because you think the company is lying to you. That just doesn’t make sense to me.

  8. Dennis Wellman says:

    I don’t blame you guys. If I had Verizon service, I’d change providers. If my electricity was generated by coal, I’d turn if off and put up a windmill or a solar panel. Go out and plant a tree. Come on, green up. Just remember, everything you use is either mined or grown. Let here it for the farmers and miners!!

  9. rwc says:

    keep stretching it out of proprotion ken ward,you do go above and beyond to do this all the time. anyone who is pro-coal is dirt in your book,but as i’ve asked you,where is it that the people you write for get their paper and ink supplies from? are they as enviromentally freindly as you think? how many of your “sierra ” club members actually practice what they preach? you’re so dead set against mining coal,but you and others use the products from coal everyday. does this make any sense to you,because it sure doesn’t to me. you drive a car to work,and apparently use a company vehicle, do you not pollute the atmosphere just the same? is it a low emission vehicle or a hybrid? just like to know what kind of enviromentalist is behind slapping around the coal industry while giving a company like exxon/mobile their record breaking profits,while they drive the prices of gas up and put people out of work because they can’t afford to pay for this and other services due to everything else going up in price.

  10. Herm says:

    Non-Union Rally? Charleston Newspapers should probably be a sponsor too. They are the biggest union busting outfit in Kanawha County. Oh yes, I remember how CN busted the union and replaced everyone with scabs.

  11. Brad says:

    I am canceling my Verizon account. I cannot handle the fact that my money is going to support a pro-mountaintop removal rally.

  12. LDE says:

    Hi Drew,
    Much the same can be said about the pro-fossil fuel, anti-environment side. They have distorted and cherry-picked the state of the science, claiming that it is all a complete fabrication and a conspiracy involving thousands of scientists who are just in it for the money (as an environmental scientist, I have to laugh whenever I hear that chestnut), and that doing anything to address climate change or stopping companies like Massey from blowing the tops off of mountains is going to wreck the economy and kill everyone’s jobs. Sounds like scare tactics and truth distortion to me. Furthermore, the money interests on the pro-fossil fuel side dwarfs the chump change available to environmentalists.

    One last point–not everyone who supports a pro-environment stance is an “enviro-terrorist”, much as I am sure that not everyone who thinks climate change and coal-mining is a good idea is a right-wing ignoramus. Using such labels is counter-productive and gets us nowhere. Try talk to someone who holds the alternative viewpoint. You might be surprised to find that he/she has good reasons to support his/her position.

    Best, LDE

  13. Phil Smith says:

    Check out the UMWA’s release regarding our Labor Day celebration here:
    If anyone is interested in a real Labor Day event that celebrates workers and the contributions they make to their communities everyday, come on down to Racine.

  14. […] to Coal Tattoo journalist Ken Ward today, Verizon Wireless spokesman Jim Gerace, “said his company simply […]

  15. Jason Robinson says:


    “does this make any sense to you because it sure doesn’t to me”

    that is a very honest assessment of the state of things.

    there are deep contradictions buried in the idea “we can refine our industrial practices and commercial consumption to be more environmentally friendly”

    those consumption practices cannot be justified by driving hybrids or using solar energy or whatever technological solution is trumpeted this week.

    we know that people can live in appalachia outside of this industrial model. they lived this way here for around 35 or 30,000 years. As long as there are natural ecosystems that produce the necessities of life, this way of life remains an option. deer, turkey, acorns, berries, plants, mushrooms, corn beans taters etc.

    When all of the mountaintops and hollers are gone then there will be no other option. not in coal country. you’ll just have to live somewhere else because the things worth living for won’t be there any more.

    some of us think ginseng hollers and ramp patches and speckled trout creeks are worth standing up for. i take a long hard look at folks who think its ok to desecrate those things. most of the time i think they just haven’t thought it through very clearly. i am not sure where you stand.


  16. […] Verizon maintains that they have been thrust into a political argument and their participation is non-political. Gerace’s comments towards people opposing mountaintop removal, climate denial, anti-enviro […]

  17. […] Verizon maintains that they have been thrust into a political argument and their participation is non-political. […]

  18. Matthew Cook says:

    To me Verizon’s sponsor ship or lack thereof is pretty much a non-event. I do wonder at the vehemence of Credo’s outrage at Verizon. Seems like a lot of ill will (and I found the poster unprofessional at best). But I’m sure the chance to pick up a few subscribers had nothing to do with it.

  19. Mike Davis says:

    sorry to burst a bubble but this is standard practice at many rallies or gatherings around the country.
    Also the MTR you are worried about is only a small portion of Appalachia. I have driven through areas that have been restored after MTR and areas that were restored after bad farming practices before TVA and the government restored the land. The is a lot of evidence with before and after pictures and it only takes time and nature will restore the sites to better than before.

  20. […] Wireless saw this as a “community event” and a sales opportunity, according to its spokespeople. Well, maybe. But you can’t have it both ways. Does Verizon sponsor antiabortion rallies or […]

  21. […] Wireless saw this as a “community event” and a sales opportunity, according to its spokespeople. Well, maybe. But you can’t have it both ways. Does Verizon sponsor antiabortion rallies or […]

  22. rwc says:

    jason robinson, thing is what i do understand is that if you make your living from a company that deals with other companies that polute and dump toxic waste into the enviroment,you work for a company that has been a union buster such as masseyand this newspaper,and you complain and refer to yourself as an enviromentalist,that’s called hypocracy.ken ward has never answered back on what i’ve asked of him,and continually slams and smears the coal industry.same of daryl hannah and whatever his name is scientist that works for nasa.they have worked and still work for unfriendly enviromental jobs,but want to tell you that coal is does this make sense to you?don’t do as i do, do as i say?it would be as if i tell you that porn is bad, but i continually work for a porn company. all i’m saying is if you call yourself an enviromentalist,practice what you preach,don’t water it down then tell me coal is bad, when there are a lot other reasons why the enviroment is in bad shape.this blog just shows how one sided some people are about the enviroment.what would ken ward be writing about then?

  23. Jason Robinson says:

    so, by your lights if one were really an environmentalist they would go live in a cave?


    isn’t this functionally equivalent to saying “if you think some way X then you should shut up?”

    what you have apparently failed to consider is that it’s not all about you. you’d rather think “hypocrisy” because it is emotionally satisfying for you to feel vindicated and the member of a group.

    that’s old school divide and conquer class-race-identity politics. its cool, right? keeps the lights on, right?

    amusingly, even if your charge were true (maybe Ken Ward for example is some sort of hypocrite, in your book), it still doesn’t change the substance or merits of his criticism on merits.

    it seems that you are saying “no one has the right to criticize me for what i do to the environment, except for naked savages” and I’d cheerfully encourage you to continue that line of reasoning, it’s ridiculous on it’s face.

    do you like to hunt and fish? do you like to drink out of spring pipes or do you get water from the store?

  24. Jim says:

    Our country is on the line. Will we live with good morals, caring for our heritage and beauty, or will the hate-talk-show mentality run the country in the ground. God help us!

    By the way, Verizon owes all it’s customers an apology. This event’s home page has a link for opposing Waxman-Markey. No benign non-political fun event is this.

    Shame on Verizon!

  25. rwc says:

    j robinson, then what you are saying is it’s ok to make a living off the same type of people you complain about and that is ok in your’s not about me,it’s about our enviroment.i’m not an enviromentalist,nor do i work as a miner,nor do i work for massey,but those who claim to care about the enviroment are far from it in my book do not work or support people that polute,and then complain.take for example,someone calls themselve a christian,been saved ,but still goes out and sins 6 days a week,are they a christian because they go to church and profess their sins on the 7th day,not in my book,but then it sounds as if my book and yours don’t agree on what’s refered to as an enviromentalist either.just because i’d protest and can’t stand what massey projects as an employer,it still wouldn’t make me an enviromentalist or do i need to say more to make you understand where i’m coming from.ken ward jr. is the don blankenship of the newspaper.

  26. Jason Robinson says:

    i don’t think that is what i am saying. but i don’t know, you tell me what i’m saying.

    if i have understood you correctly the only people qualified to make these criticisms are black bears and people who go to church and act like christians all 6 days of the week.

    you know people ain’t really worried about coal for most of the time they have been on this earth. it doesn’t really do nothing or make nothing, it plays hell getting it and the only way for it to be worth a dern is if you set it on fire. indians were mostly smart enough to live it alone and they lived here just fine and healthier too.

    you can’t get speckled trout and ramps at the food city

    you mean to tell me that since i typed that on a computer that you can disregard? ok then, you didn’t really need a reason.


  27. Clem Guttata says:

    Twenty-plus groups have now called for Verizon Wireless to drop its sponsorship of the rally or to state its opposition to mountain top removal:

    Also, the Washington Post has a piece on the criticism of VZ:

  28. Jason Robinson says:

    rwc, actually i am reading what you wrote. you claim that anyone using a computer to voice opposition to mountaintop removal is a hypocrite, and you think that invalidates their argument.

    i pointed out that that is not very sound reasoning, at best, and you responded with rather strange equivocations about christians and porns and NASA.

    just for kicks, here is a hypothetical: I am a traffic engineer, and I advocate a particular design for a particular intersection to meet a particular objective. Someone (let’s call them “rwc”) comes along and says “That design is crap because you ride your bicycle to work and you don’t even drive a car to work”

    you would say “wow that is irrelevant”, no? that’s about the content of your criticisms about the gazette and ken ward jr. maybe ken ward is a hypocrite who snorts coal dust and drinks slurry, that doesn’t invalidate the reasoning behind his arguments that MTR is a raw deal for people and the environment.


  29. mike roselle says:

    The only question I have is will Blankenship and the Nudge be wearing hoods and robes on Monday? This has the smell of a hate rally and I hope some of the people who show up will see that they are being used by Massey and are being encouraged to hate their neighbors who might disagree with their views that there is no such thing as climate change and the only choice we have is to either blow up our mountains or freeze in a cave.

    Just as was the Klan, these Friends of America are on the wrong side of history.

  30. rwc says:

    jason,well apparently you don’t understand a thing i’ve written,and to keep arguing with you on what i’ve stated,so i’ll ignore your silly interpretations on what i’ve said.ken ward is ok to make comments and refer to himself as an enviromentalist,slamming and smearing coal companies and coal miners and an apparent advocate against massey and others while he works for a newspaper that has done no less than the same union busting,profit for helping the same type of people who do not care for the if that is not being a hypocrite ,then coal mines and this carbon capturing system isn’t either.climate change has been brought on by a lot more than just coal.destruction of rivers and streams inside wv can be blamed on more than just coal companies,illegal dump sites, abandoned auto’s left to rot down,people dumping old used oil,but no one has brought this into it other than’s apparently ok for people to do these others as long as someone is there to blame big coal companies for this. yeager airport and the golf course at coonskin just got caught into this.flattening out mountains for coal or any other purpose destroys the natural eco systems that people are complaining about,but to hear from some of these enviromentalists,it’s just coal that does sided enviromentalists is what i call it,plain and want change,you want to help the enviroment,then put a stop to it all,not just one side of side of it may slow it down,but it will not stop it altogether.criticize me for what i say,but know it to be true.i am not hooked into a group of any sort,i do not believe what massey stands for ,but at the same time i do not agree with ken ward jr., either.if you look from both sides and not just one,even the most simple minded person can see what i mean,without putting words into my mouth.

  31. […] of the gathering was to rail against the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation. Verizon executives refused to cancel the sponsorship, and even responded by mocking environmental activists. Now, Verizon Wireless CEO […]

  32. […] of the gathering was to rail against the Waxman-Markey clean energy legislation. Verizon executives refused to cancel the sponsorship, and even responded by mocking environmental activists. Now, Verizon Wireless CEO […]

  33. […] Today found this great post, here is a quick excerpt : verizoncrowd.jpg. the big friends of america rally on labor day sounds like it’s going to be quite an event, with a crowd, as reported today by my collegue davin white, that will rival or surpass a mountaineer home football game. … Read the rest of this great post Here […]

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