Coal Tattoo

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West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin came out and met with  about two dozen protesters who filled his outer office reception area, demanding that the governor step in to stop Massey Energy mountaintop removal operations near the company’s Brush Fork slurry impoundment in Raleigh County.

The governor told the protesters:

We want to do everything. We’re committed to attracting wind farms and attracting solar farms. We’re looking at all of that.

What we’re trying to do is find a balance and that’s tough to do in an extractive state.

When I left the Capitol about an hour ago, many of the protesters were still there. Some of them were holding big banners outside the reception area, in the main hall of the building. Seven others had locked arms, sat down and were refusing to leave the reception area unless Manchin stopped the mining permits.

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It looked like Capitol security were going to let the protesters stay, as long as they weren’t blocking entrances and exits or otherwise disrupting business. But that could change. Manchin spokesman Matt Turner reported:

The protesters have the same rights as any person who enters the capitol. We are not asking them to leave, so long as they don’t block safe ingress and egress from the Reception Room or pose a fire or security hazard. They may stay there until the Governor’s Office closing time at 5 p.m., and stay in the capitol’s public spaces until it closes at 7 p.m. 

Updated: Gazette statehouse reporter Alison Knezevich reports to me that all seven of the sit-in protesters have been arrested after they refused to leave when the reception room was closing for the day at 5 p.m.

Today’s protest action was apparently planned by Climate Ground Zero, which has been organizing non-violent civil disobedience actions against mountaintop removal throughout the year. A number of local residents and activists also attended, and got a chance to take their complaints directly to Manchin.

Former underground coal miner Chuck Nelson told the governor:

We can have a wind facility on top of  these mountains, and Massey Coal can deep mine under these mountains to get the coal.

Lorelei Scarbro of Rock Creek told Manchin “the whole world is watching” how he and the rest of West Virginia’s government and political leaders handle the mountaintop removal issue. Complete copies of the protesters’ demands, and their statements to Gov. Manchin, are posted online here.

Manchin indicated he has no intention of stepping in and getting Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman to do anything about the Massey permits in question. When one of the young folks told Manchin some of them weren’t leaving until he took action on those permits, the governor responded, “Then you’re going to be here for a long time.”

The governor repeated the standard line his administration has offered when coalfield residents seek help on specific mountaintop removal or other coal-mining permits:

I can’t get involved in permits. It goes through the process and I respect that process.

Manchin conceded that he appointed Huffman, but said that doesn’t mean he tells WVDEP what to do:

No politician has that power. I appoint judges, too. Do you think I call them and tell them to find you guilty and you innocent?

Chuck Nelson responded by asking Manchin why had had flown to Philadelphia and to Washington, D.C., to complain to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the Obama administration’s review of mountaintop removal permits.

The governor said that he got involved there not to address specific permits, but to object when the state and the coal industry felt that EPA wasn’t setting out specific rules for mine operators to follow to get federal permits approved.

Does Manchin’s line on this hold water? Well, keep in mind that only Friday the governor issued a statement criticizing EPA for its actions on a specific mining permit — one that isn’t even pending in front of WVDEP.

Manchin did hand out business cards for his constituent services aides, and urged any citizens who felt that they were being harassed or intimidated at last week’s big Army Corps of Engineers to contact the state to file complaints.  “That was awful,” Manchin said of that hearing.

But, the governor also said he has been told that some parents and teachers at Marsh Fork Elementary School in Raleigh County don’t want their school relocated away from a Massey Energy operation and have been “scared to speak out because of all of the harassment that was coming from the outside.” Here’s some video of that part of the governor’s discussion: