Coal Tattoo


Corps of Engineers officials, left to right, Deb Tabor, Robert Peterson,  Ginger Mullins, and Meg Gaffney-Smith, ran last night’s public hearing on mountaintop removal. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.

My buddy Ry Rivard at the Charleston Daily Mail (whose editors must not care about coal miners, since they buried his story inside their paper) reports this morning on some mountaintop removal opponents who couldn’t get into last night’s hearing and didn’t get much help from local police.

On The Huffington Post, Jeff Biggers recounts similar stories from coalfield activists.

The lead of The Associated Press story concluded that coal supporters “shouted down” those who disagreed with them,  and Erica Peterson at West Virginia Public Broadcasting explained how some environmental group speakers lost some of their time at the microphone because the yelling and jeering drowned the out.

But when I asked Meg Gaffney-Smith, chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permitting program, about all of this, here’s what she said:

I believe that the hearing was conducted in an orderly fashion. It was conducted in an appropriate fashion. 

Gaffney-Smith, who works in Washington but was in Charleston for last night’s hearing, continued:

I think it is difficult to manage the safety of all speakers and the intent was to ensure that the Corps could hear what was said and ensure the safety of all speakers.

Now during the hearing, Bill Price of the Sierra Club specifically asked Corps Col. Robert Peterson to have local police remove folks who were disrupting other speakers from the room.

Peterson refused, and Gaffney-Smith explained this decision to me by saying that Corps officials and local authorities were worried that removing some of the coal supporters could create a “safety problem” for Corps officials, police and other speakers in attendance. Instead, Gaffney-Smith said, the strategy was to try to “redirect” the situation so that the Corps could hear everybody who wanted to speak. She said:

My belief is that we were able to maintain order and receive comments from all of the speakers.

I don’t believe anyone was intimidated from speaking. We recognized that people were passionate and very vocal. They probably could have been more respectful.

And here’s some video of the scene outside the Civic Center: