Coal Tattoo

Coal supporters put on shouting lesson at MTR hearing


Gazette photo by Chris Dorst

If the coal industry’s goal at tonight’s Army Corps of Engineers public hearing was for no one else to get a word in … well, it pretty much worked.

Hundreds of people turned out here in Charleston — the auditorium at the civic center seats nearly 740 and was overflowing — for one of six hearings on the Obama administration’s proposal to end the use of a streamlined permitting review process for mountaintop removal mining.

The crowd was overwhelmingly pro-coal, and even the few mountaintop removal opponents who did show up either decided not to battle the booing and shouting or couldn’t be heard when they did try to speak.

One coal industry publicist I talked to explained it all away by saying the miners are understandably full of emotion about the prospect of losing their jobs. Another coal official, Gene Kitts of International Coal Group, was actually tweeting tonight that the environmentalists were “baiting the pro coal audience” into the yelling and jeering.

We’ll have a complete news story on the hearing in tomorrow’s Gazette and later tonight on our Web site.

UPDATED: Here’s today’s Gazette news story.

Until then, tonight’s hearing — and the Corps of Engineers refusal to even really try to control the crowd so everyone got their say — reminded me a lot of a mountaintop removal hearing I went to about five years ago … Here’s a little of what I wrote about it at the time:

Janet Fout thought strip mine regulators should hear the sounds of frogs and birds whose homes could be damaged by mountaintop removal mining.

So, at a public hearing on proposed changes to a key stream protection rule, Fout tried to play a tape of spring peepers and wood thrushes.

“I’m speaking for life,” said Fout, a Huntington environmental activist. “We will all miss the birds and the frogs and the fish.”

U.S. Office of Surface Mining officials weren’t interested.

“I’m not going to listen to that for five minutes,” said OSM’s Tom Morgan, referring to the allotted time for each speaker.

“What relevance does that have to the stream buffer zone rule?” Morgan said. “We are not here to hear animal calls or bird calls.”

Fout continued to play the tape. She said that scientific studies have found mountaintop removal is harming bird and other animal habitat.

A uniformed Charleston police officer — one of two posted inside the hearing — walked to the front of the room and exchanged whispers with Morgan.

Then, the officer walked over to the podium and whispered to Fout. When she still didn’t stop the tape, the officer shut off the microphone. He appeared at one point to be trying to confiscate the tape player or at least turn it off.