Coal Tattoo

‘Rally for Coal’ draws 1,000 to W.Va. Capitol

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Sen. Joe Manchin, right, and West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, far left, attend a rally for coal Thursday, Jan. 20, 2011 at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. More than 1,000 people crowded round the well of the state Capitol’s rotunda Thursday to rally in response to a recent action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (AP Photo/Jeff Gentner)

Hey folks, I’ve been tied up all day covering the release of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board’s report on the Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, W.Va., but I wanted to pass on the early AP report on the “Rally for Coal” at the Capitol here in Charleston. The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden will have a complete report in tomorrow’s Gazette.

By Lawrence Messina

The Associated Press

From acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to working miners and their relatives, West Virginians spoke out Thursday at a rally against the Obama administration’s handling of the state’s coal industry.

More than 1,000 people filled the well of the state Capitol’s rotunda in response to last week’s regulatory action by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The crowd also included scores of opponents of mountaintop removal mining who support the EPA action.

EPA announced last week that it’s revoking a crucial water permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine. The 2,300-acre Logan County operation would have been the state’s largest mountaintop removal site.

Tomblin, a Democrat, was the first in a string a speakers at the hourlong event to blast EPA for that decision.

“This is about sending a message to Washington,” Tomblin said. “This rally is about jobs, plain and simple.”

Tomblin also responded to critics from the environmental movement who slammed him Wednesday as an industry shill for organizing the event.

“This rally is not about any one coal company. This rally is not about lobbying for the coal industry,” he said.

The acting governor also received applause when he told the crowd that West Virginia “can mine coal in an environmentally sound manner.”

EPA concluded that the Spruce permit would cause irreparable environmental damage and threaten the health of nearby communities. Environmental groups have fought for years to stop it.

Tomblin has been acting as governor since the November resignation of fellow Democrat and now-U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin. Manchin also spoke at Thursday’s rally as did House Speaker Rick Thompson, acting Senate President Jeff Kessler and that chamber’s GOP leader, Sen. Mike Hall.

Other speakers included Diann Kish and Linda Dials, who spoke on behalf of family members in the industry. The rally brought a throng to the Capitol nine days into the Legislature’s regular, 60-day session. It also follows Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling that mandate an election for governor this year. Tomblin, Thompson and Kessler are among the emerging Democratic candidates in that race.

During the rally, nine coal-laden barges idled on the Kanawha River just across from the south edge of the Capitol grounds. With 27 of West Virginia’s 55 counties extracting the fossil fuel, residents from across the state traveled to Charleston for the rally.

Everett Selders, 64, was bused in along with other International Coal Group miners by their employer to attend the event.

“I hope we can strip more coal and get more coal out of the ground. That’s West Virginia’s priority, coal,” Selders said.

Jacob Asbury, 23, can trace coal miners in his family back at least three generations. He works for Phillips Machinery in Beckley, which provides heavy equipment to the industry.

“We’re just down here to support coal,” Asbury said.

With a heavy security presence, the rally remained orderly.