Coal Tattoo

W.Va. Legislature: The race to stand up more for coal

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I guess West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin is going to have to try a little bit harder … his statement in last night’s State of the State address just wasn’t enough:

We must continue to stand up for our coal miners and their families! We are not asking for a handout. All we’re asking for is the permission to work!

chafin.JPGIt seemed like Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, was going to win the award for standing up the tallest to defend the coal industry, with his statements, blasting the Obama administration, before the session even started:

They have a whole new attitude about the coal industry. We just have to stand united.

But, judging from this report today in the Beckley Register-Herald,  Chafin has fallen behind to Delegate Steve Kominar, D-Mingo, and Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone.

Check this out, from a meeting of the Joint Commission on Economic Development:

Kominar and Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, zeroed in on the EPA’s insistence that mined-out mountains be restored to natural contours, with mountains even higher than the natural ones before coal was extracted, rather than be used to develop schools, golf courses, hospitals and the like, as has been accomplished at old mine sites.

“Fifty years from now, we’ll look back and say that (original contour restoration) was the worst thing we ever did in southern West Virginia,” Stollings told the commission.

OK … what the heck are they even talking about?

EPA is pushing mine operators to put more rock and dirt back onto mined areas, and less into streams. But there’s nothing in what EPA is asking for that stops mine operators from proposing post-mining land uses that would develop land they flatten, and obtaining variances from the approximate original contour reclamation standard if they do. That’s all still in the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, and in West Virginia law.

Let’s go over this yet again: The problem is that coal operators very seldom propose such post-mining developments, and state and federal regulators have for years let them get away with it. See previous posts on this here and here.

kominar_steve.jpgThen, Kominar challenged folks who criticize mountaintop removal to base their discussion on “scientific facts”:

Let’s not base this on emotions.  If we’re doing something wrong in the mining industry, give us the opportunity to correct it.

You think Delegate Kominar has read the bombshell paper in the journal Science, which concluded that mountaintop removal’s environmental effects are “pervasive and irreversible” and called for a halt for new permits? (By the way, when Kominar says “we” he means it … he works for a coal trucking firm).

stollings_ron.jpgMaybe Sen. Stollings could walk him through it … Stollings is a physician after all. He might be interested in the reports from WVU’s Michael Hendryx and others that found:

Even after mine-site reclamation (attempts to return a site to premined conditions), groundwater samples from domestic supply wells have higher levels of mine-derived chemical constituents than well water from unmined areas. Human health impacts may come from contact with streams or exposure to airborne toxins and dust. State advisories are in effect for excessive human consumption of Se in fish from MTM/VF affected waters. Elevated levels of airborne, hazardous dust have been documented around surface mining operations. Adult hospitalizations for chronic pulmonary disorders and hypertension are elevated as a function of county-level coal production, as are rates of mortality; lung cancer; and chronic heart, lung, and kidney disease. Health problems are for women and men, so effects are not simply a result of direct occupational exposure of predominantly male coal miners.

When they’re done with that, they could give a read to the report “Coal’s Assault on Human Health,” published by the group Physicians for Social Responsibility.

Some of the stuff we’re likely to hear from lawmakers defending coal the next 60 days might make Gov. Manchin sound like some kind of “tree hugger.” It’s clear legislators didn’t get Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s memo that the coal industry should “embrace the future,” in which Sen. Byrd said:

byrd1.jpgScapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counter-productive … When coal industry representatives stir up public anger toward federal regulatory agencies, it can damage the state’s ability to work with those agencies to West Virginia’s benefit. This, in turn, may create the perception of ineffectiveness within the industry, which can drive potential investors away.

As the session moves along, if Coal Tattoo readers pick up on more statements like those from Chafin, Kominar and Stollings, please pass them along to me either through the comments section on the blog or via e-mail.