Coal Tattoo

Industry rally: Who can be the most-pro coal?

Coal mining supporters from the Appalachian states hold a rally near the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

We’ve got the complete Associated Press story on last week’s big pro-coal rally in Washington posted on the Mining the Mountains section of the Gazette Web site.  The industry front group FACES of Coal has more about the event on its own site, as well as its Facebook page.

I really wish AP would work on its boilerplate background on mountaintop removal:

In mountaintop removal mining, forests are clear-cut, explosives blast apart the rock, and machines scoop out the exposed coal. The earth left behind is dumped into valleys, covering intermittent streams. Coal operators say it’s the most efficient way to reach some reserves, and that it supports tens of thousands of jobs and provides coal for electricity. Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.

Many surface coal mines in Appalachia bury not only intermittent streams, but perennial and ephemeral ones. And while the industry does indeed argue — perhaps correctly, if you read ICG Vice President Gene Kitts guest blog for Coal Tattoo — that this is the “most efficient” way to mine certain coal seams, this description of the other side of the story is greatly lacking:

Opponents say it pollutes water, defaces majestic scenery and obliterates the quiet country environment.

And it wouldn’t hurt if AP were to once in a while mention  the Science journal article that outlines the growing scientific consensus about the  serious effects mountaintop removal is having on the environment and communities in Appalachia.

Also not mentioned in the AP story, though, was the bipartisan bill introduced on Tuesday to block EPA from using any of its funding to conduct more detailed Clean Water Act permit reviews for strip mines or to enforce its new limit on the electrical conductivity pollution from these mines.

Among the sponsors of the bill is West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who said:

Coal is affordable and abundant and mined right here in America. It supports thousands of jobs in West Virginia and across our country that we can’t afford to lose at a time of near double digit unemployment. I am proud to stand with the miners at today’s rally to remind Congress of the vital role this reliable American energy resource plays in our economic and energy portfolios.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin was also there and said:

West Virginians understand the importance of coal and how it supports our families and our communities. But many Washington lawmakers and regulators do not comprehend its impact. Without coal we lose more than 22,000 direct jobs – that’s more than $1.7 billion in wages for West Virginia families. We also lose important tax revenue that our schools and communities depend on, along with any possibility of national energy independence.

But wow, Rep. Capito and Gov. Manchin have nothing on Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., whose office issued a news release headlined — in what has to be Rep. Rahall’s strongest pro-mountaintop removal rhetoric to date — Rahall Joins Bipartisan Effort to Stop EPA’s Abuses.

I’ll just quote the whole statement:

This bill would prevent EPA from implementing these dictates that have stalled permits in West Virginia, putting miners’ jobs at risk, and creating an unreasonable inequity between central Appalachia and the rest of the Nation,” said Rahall. “They were not subject to public comment, they are not in regulation, and I believe they are unlawful. There is something called the Administrative Procedure Act and even the EPA must comply with it.

The most potent weapon the American people have to check the abusive actions of an executive agency is the power of the purse – a power granted to the People, through their directly elected representatives in Congress, by the Framers of the Constitution. This legislation would exercise that power and help to rein in abuses by an over-reaching agency that is putting coal jobs and our economy at risk.

Gosh, Rep. Rahall must have missed the fact that EPA’s permit review process has produced two mountaintop removal permits in his district that allow coal to be mined while greatly reducing the size and scope of the environmental damage (See previous posts here and here).  Not for nothing, but I wonder if Rep. Rahall read the news that some of those environmental groups he wants to distance himself from used one of the lawsuits he criticizes to create a new legal clinic to help clean up raw sewage discharges in Fayette County (also in his district).

Then again, none of the elected officials in the region really want to talk much about the damage mountaintop removal is doing, about coal’s impact on global warming or about the almost certain decline in Central Appalachian production for reasons that have little to do with the issues being protested about last week. Talking about how some coal jobs might be going away regardless of these issues, and about how to balance keeping what’s left with the need to address environmental damage, global warming and coal miner safety just isn’t as easy to campaign on, I guess.

One thing is clear:  Even Rep. Rahall’s comments last week can’t compete with those of West Virginia Sen. Jay Rockefeller. In commenting on the pro-coal rally and EPA, the West Virginia Democrat — who in other forums has been trying to explain how coal can be made clean — said this, according to the AP:

[EPA Administrator Lisa P.] Jackson doesn’t understand the sensitivities economically of what unemployment means. Her job is relatively simple: clean everything up, keep it clean, don’t do anything to disturb perfection. Well, you can’t do coal and do that at the same time. God didn’t make coal to be an easy thing to work with.