Gazette photo by Chip Ellis
Well, here’s the answer to the question posed on my previous post, “What’s Gov. Manchin going to say?” For starters, Manchin emerged from a long meeting with coalfield citizens and issued a call for an end to threats and intimidation against West Virginians who are fighting to stop mountaintop removal:
We will not in any way, shape or form in this state of West Virginia tolerate any violence against anyone on any side. If you’re going to have the dialogue, have respect for each other.
Manchin also promised he would look into citizen complaints about lax enforcement of strip-mining rules by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, but he certainly wasn’t persuaded to drop his strong support for mountaintop removal. He said he told the citizens they would have to agree to disagree about that one.
Singer and West Virginia native Kathy Mattea was among those who met with Gov. Manchin. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis.
This meeting was slightly different in format than the one Manchin held back in early November with coal executives. For one thing, the citizen groups offered to have a couple of coal industry lobbyists sit in, and they did. Reps. Rahall and Capito of West Virginia both attended, but Sen. Jay Rockefeller (who did have time to meet with the industry executives) didn’t show up. Rockfeller sent a staffer. (Senate records indicate there was just one floor vote yesterday in Washington, D.C.)
And more importantly, the citizen groups brought some experts with them — including WVU’s Michael Hendryx, who told me he tried to explain to the governor his research about coal’s harsh impacts on public health and a study that showed the industry costs the Appalachian region more than it provides in economic benefits.
I’m not sure Manchin heard that, given his comment about how “every job in West Virginia is a precious job.” I got the idea that Manchin is still focused on just trying to preserve existing jobs, not finding ways to “embrace the future,” as the Central Appalachian coal industry continues its inevitable decline.
Bo Webb, the Raleigh County resident and activist who asked Manchin for the meeting, seemed pretty pleased, but he also emphasized “there is an urgency to address some serious issues, and hopefully some of those concerns will begin to be addressed very soon.”
And while Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was busy filing for re-election and also forming a “coal caucus” in Washington, D.C., even she was talking about trying to find ways to “bridge that gap” between the coal industry and folks who want to stop mountaintop removal.
Activist Maria Gunnoe — not really one to settle for just talk when it comes to mountaintop removal — assessed the meeting by saying it needs to be just the start of such talks:
It’s very important that this not be a one-time thing. We live in these communities, and we’re not going anywhere. This can’t be where it ends. This is the beginning of a long process.