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

January 20, 2011 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

24 Responses to “‘Rally for Coal’ draws 1,000 to W.Va. Capitol”

  1. Susan Mann says:

    I am so relieved that the rally was orderly. Freedom of speech is as important as making a living. Glad every one felt their views were represented. Nice job!

  2. Tim Higgins says:

    Ken, I just don’t get all of this. The EPA did not issue the 404 permit Right?
    So why are all the governor-want-to-be’s jumping on the EPA?
    As a side note I had the oppertunity to ask Senator Manchin at his first town hall meeting in Elkins last friday about supporting the Dominion Alternative 1 instead of PATH, his response —- I thought PATH was a dead project.
    Question Why does the Senator know more about a SINGLE mine permit then he knows about a proposed 2.1B dollar project that will effect 17 counties. I just don’t understand.

  3. Joseph Rice says:

    I just wonder how many of these 1000 were bussed in from out of state. Joe Manchin was a mistake. We need to come up with a viable candidate to defeat him in the next election.

  4. Matt Wasson says:

    A lot of us Coal Tattoo regulars and I’m sure folks around Charleston have an interest in this rally, and I’m glad you’re covering it, Ken. But the reports from Capitol Hill are that the response from Congressional staffers can best be described as “booooorrrrring.” If Manchin and Tomblin are going to convince people that the Spruce No. 1 permit is a pressing issue of national security that threatens all Americans’ way of life, they’re going to have to do better than getting the same bunch of politicians and miners together in Charleston that were there at the last half dozen rallies to decry the socialist-fascist-treasonous goings on in Washington. Can’t we at least get Ted Nugent back?

  5. PJD says:


    The 404 permit is issued by the Corps of Engineers, but it is always issued contingent on a “401 Water Quality Certification” issued by either the State DEP in some states, or the the EPA in other states, under the CWA. It is the 401 water quality certification that the EPA withdrew.

  6. watcher says:

    Tha rally remained orderly. Now Ken you can take down your “legitimate” news item. The pot stirring did’nt work.

  7. Monty says:

    Trying to revise history, watcher? It was up on the Friends of Coal website. They only took it down because someone called them on it.

  8. cindy rank says:

    Actually, PJD, Tim is correct. It is the 404 permit issued by the Corps that EPA has vetoed. For more about the process and how it’s been applied to the Spruce #1 404 permit check out:

  9. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Matt –

    Perhaps you could provide the names of those congressional staffers?

    And Cindy is obviously correct — EPA used its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto the 404 permit, not the 401 certification.

    Let’s try to not confuse people on these details, folks. There’s enough confusion already.


  10. charlie says:

    Did you see the opening pray by Rev. Bias, “Coal is your will. You placed it here on earth. It is part of your master plan,” Bias said. He prayed to God that 2011 “will be safe and secure for mining and the most prosperous year for mining.”

    I dont support coal, so does that make me doing the will of satan?

  11. Matt Wasson says:

    Can’t do it, Ken – I was just repeating the general report I got from the team that’s working on Capitol Hill this week. So yes, it amounts to hearsay.

    But the point is that this rally was for local consumption and was all about local politics. If Manchin and Capito are correct that our very way of life is at stake with EPA’s veto, you’d think there would be a little more ruckus elsewhere in the country. If this were really a threat to the entire US coal industry, shouldn’t we be seeing similar rallies in Indiana, Texas, Colorado and Wyoming? If the implications go beyond coal, shouldn’t we see rallies among poultry producers in Iowa and home-builders in Florida?

    The reason we only see West Virginia politicians leading the backlash is because the impact of this decision in terms of jobs and the economy goes not an inch beyond the borders of the state. And this is hardly a precedent-setting decision for the EPA, which has used 404(c) authority a number of times in the past and has also overturned previously granted permits in the past. Yes, it’s an unusual action, but it was taken in response to a highly unusual situation.

    There are some miners in West Virginia for whom this decision creates some real and immediate fear and uncertainty, and anyone with a heart should feel empathy. But even in the context of in-state repercussions, it’s unjust to blame the EPA when it was Arch that refused to negotiate to reduce environmental impacts while protecting those jobs. My point is that the rally and rhetoric do not represent the beginning of some tidal wave of reaction against the EPA. It’s a tempest in a teapot that is driven by local politics.

  12. Monty says:

    I would not disagree that as a national issue, the fact that WV is an Energy Sacrifice Zone is just that, boooooooooooooring. And for the reason that Matt gave, and others – the bottom line is, as long as the lights come on when people flick the switch, 99 percent of them don’t give a flip where the electricity come from or how it gets to their light bulb.

    I have friends all over the country who are not even remotely interested in anything environmental. Some of them are dimly aware of MTR, but beyond a “Gee, that’s kinda’ awful,” they don’t care. Sure, WE care, because it’s in OUR backyard. But politically, the power base of WV got real small, real fast, when a certain senior Senator departed last year. We became a whole lot easier to, if not ignore, at least to push to the back of the room while more pressing political concerns get thrashed out in Congress.

    King Coal can try to frame the whole permitting issue as a grave threat to national security, but I really can’t see that getting airborne, or if it manages to, staying airborne for very long. Because unlike gas for your car, there are options for keeping the lights on.

  13. Matt Wasson says:

    There’s a lot of truth to what Monty says, but I think there’s a big difference in the national implications on the pro and con sides of the mountaintop removal debate. In my experience, people (including legislators) are far more likely to believe that the destruction of the oldest and most biologically diverse mountains on the continent is a “national issue” than they are to believe that the denial of a handful of the most egregious surface mine permits in a few Appalachian states is a national threat – particularly at a time when demand for US coal is decreasing.

  14. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Well, Matt … if you can’t name them, or their bosses, there’s no way for anybody on Coal Tattoo to take this report seriously.

    My guess is if I called staffers for Rep. Capito or for the House Speaker or for someone like Sen. Inhofe, they would say that the rally was a great indication of the opposition to EPA policies …

    I always appreciate your well-researched comments and posts about coal’s declining role in the nation’s energy supply and the Appalachian economy, but citing a general report from unnamed congressional staffers doesn’t get us very far.

    Best, Ken.

  15. Thomas Rodd says:

    Here’s a link to a longer piece by commenter Matt Wasson on the attempt to “nationalize” the EPA decision. It’s pretty interesting: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matt-wasson/epa-vetoes-massive-mounta_b_810865.html

    Whether the “War on Coal” industry message is receding permanently, as Wasson’s piece suggests is the current case — is an open question. After all, there is a real, declared “War on Coal” – led by a large grouping of people worldwide, including a lot of rich and smart people, who are deeply concerned about climate change. I agree with Matt Wasson that MTR, as experienced by folks here in Central Appalachia, is a blip on most people’s radar screens. But climate change is a threat to every single human, and a lot of them already “get it” that the single most important key to avoiding a planetary catastrophe is reining in atmospheric carbon emissions, especially those that come from BURNING COAL.

    Therefore, many people who want our species to exist on a hospitable planet are at “war” on business as usual with respect to coal burning. For some, that war means, quite logically, attacking and weakening coal on every possible front, including coal’s local as well as global environmental and human negatives – like MTR.

    One tricky part of this war, however, is that to “win” a “War on Coal” from a climate change perspective – may require, according to many experts, major incentives to see if carbon capture can be made feasible and economically viable – because coal is just too abundant and cheap for people to abandon it fast enough to stop runaway global warming. This does not sit well with people whose primary concern is the local negatives from coal mining. But as Wasson notes, most people don’t care about them.

    Like all wars, there are many battlefields and many fronts — but in the case of the climate-based “War on Coal” — a war that has to be “won” in some fashion, to preserve this planet as a home for our species — there is no end in sight. And we here in the coalfields are caught in the crossfire, with no easy answers. So how do we react, besides keeping our eyes wide open?

    One thing we might do is rein in the nasty castigation of politicians who are directly accountable to large numbers of people who make a living from coal. Yes, it is frustrating to know there is a problem, and see no action that you think will deal with it effectively. But, in general, the accurate answer to the question of “when will political leader X do ____, that I want him or her to do?” – a question that has been put up on this blog by some commenters — is: “when you are politically strong enough.”

    “Blaming” and personally attacking political leaders of whatever stripe for doing what they think will allow them to survive in office is like blaming the tides for going in and out. It’s pointless, it is the nature of things, and in politics it is often a poor substitute for doing what you can do — which is getting stronger. And that getting stronger is happening! Winning not whining!

    Using words like “puppet” for politicians whose shoes you have not walked in, however heartfelt and understandable — tends to dehumanize people, and excludes an appreciation that there are many different perspectives, held by decent people with diverse interests, about the challenges and opportunities facing the coalfields.

    Just my two cents — I could be wrong. I appreciate all of the comments here.

  16. Matt Wasson says:

    Fair enough, Ken. I’ll admit there are better ways to make the point than posting hearsay on your blog, and moreover, it could have been said in a way that doesn’t appear to belittle the very real fears of some of those that attended the rally (not my intent). I also imagine you’re right as to what you’d hear from Capito’s office, though my guess is that you’d have to inform Boehner’s staff that there had been a rally in the first place (and give them time to get their talking points from Capito) before you could get a reaction. That said, any claim that the rally in Charleston was indicative of a large national backlash against the EPA is still just spin.

    Thomas, if only we could all take such a level-headed view of this issue. Your perspective on the actions of elected officials is smart – it doesn’t do much good to blame the moon for creating tides. The frustration, however, arises from the fact that the political power of the coal industry in West Virginia has long outlived its capacity to create prosperity in the region and so when politicians reinforce the foolishness that coal is (or even could be) the key to economic recovery, it only serves to heighten the sense of hopelessness.

    The 2011 Annual Energy Outlook that was released last month now projects that, by 2014, production in Central Appalachia will have dropped by 50% from 2008 levels (from 240 to 120 million tons). Maybe a concerted effort by WV politicians to reverse the EPA’s crack-down could change that to a 30% drop, but that’s hardly a recipe for a new era of prosperity in the coalfields. Moreover, if Rockefeller and Rahall weren’t so beholden to the coal industry, they may have been able to direct a whole lot more stimulus funds to begin bringing new industries to places like southern WV where they are needed most. That opportunity is not likely to come again after the change in House leadership, and aligning with the Tea Party to try to roll back regulations on a rapidly and irreversibly declining industry is a deal with the devil for West Virginia.

    One correction: I don’t mean to say that the “War on Coal” message is gone for good, but rather that it wasn’t effective for the current narrative about an alleged broad assault by the EPA on all US industries. The problem for mountaintop removal supporters is that most politicians and Tea Party activists use “War on Coal” in reference to EPA’s rules on CO2, coal ash, emissions of ozone, particulates and mercury… basically, the things that impact the bottom line of the extremely powerful utilities industry. That industry, given the glut in available coal supplies, has little if any stake in the EPA’s restrictions on MTR permits. And the last thing coal burning utilities and their supporters in Congress want is for mountaintop removal to become the poster child of their “War on Coal” message — they want CO2 regulations and cap and trade to be front and center.

    So when Roger Horton et al. talk about a “War on Coal” in reference to EPA’s crackdown on mountaintop removal, they’re talking about a very different war than the one that mid-western and western coal state legislators are talking about.

  17. mike roselle says:

    Ken, I was there and I don’t think there was a thousand people, and yes they were bussed in, as I arrived early enough to see them unloading.

  18. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    This is an interesting discussion, and Matt’s point regarding the profile — or maybe lack of it — that this all has with Washington is probably an area I’m not as well acquainted with as he …

    But I know that Sen. Inhofe has certainly made it his business to stay on top of the EPA’s crackdown on mountaintop removal and what the industry says the impact of that is, http://wvgazette.com/News/Bayerexplosion/201101201720 … Of course, Sen. Byrd had some thoughts on what Congressional views were on mountaintop removal — I’m sure Matt would agree with the late Senator’s analysis, at least as far as whether a majority in Washington would ban the practice if there were a vote:


    I’d be interested in your thoughts on that particular Coal Tattoo post, Matt.

    One of the things that I forever wonder about here is that, if coalfield anti-mountaintop removal activists are so strongly in favor of finding an improved economy for the region, and care so much about coal miners and their families, why isn’t talk of alternative jobs, a more managed transition away from coal, etc., higher up on their talking point list?

    I know many folks — Bo Webb for one — talk a lot about some sort of G.I. Bill sort of program for miners, and obviously, other folks have pushed the Coal River Wind Project.

    But from a broader perspective, the economic issues facing coalfield communities (which are already hurting and have been historically) as the external costs you talk about are dealt with, and as other energy patterns and market forces drive down coal production, are very important — these things barely get touched on most of the time though. Perhaps that’s the fault of we in the media, and I certainly want to do more to correct that.


  19. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    As noted, I was not there … and as Paul’s story indicated, our Paul Nyden put the crowd at 400, less than half of what AP estimated.


  20. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    Great comment above by Tom Rodd, by the way.

  21. vnxq809 says:

    Joseph Rice & Mike Roselle,

    Yes – folks were bussed in (parking constraints) but they were bussed from Logan, Beckley and other coalfield origins.

    If you’re implying that the powers that be bussed in attendees from out of state to bolster headcounts it is simply untrue.


  22. Clem Guttata says:

    Ken — “One of the things that I forever wonder about here is that, if coalfield anti-mountaintop removal activists are so strongly in favor of finding an improved economy for the region, and care so much about coal miners and their families, why isn’t talk of alternative jobs, a more managed transition away from coal, etc., higher up on their talking point list?”

    I don’t quite fit your description (the EP of WV is hardly coal fields) but the things you mention have certainly been a recurring theme for us at West Virginia Blue.

    Someone else here mentioned the stimulus funds a as a missed opportunity for a more managed transition. Another one is the money for displaced workers in the climate bill that passed the House. Part of the cap-and-trade funds was specifically set aside for impacted workers. That’s a bit of economic justice that I, for one, have been strongly advocating for.

    I considered Sen. Byrd an honest broker because–instead of just throwing pot shots or shooting bullets–he actually engaged in the hard work of the political process to find better outcomes for everyone.

    See: http://www.wvablue.com/diary/5940/repost-one-rare-byrd-an-honest-broker-for-vested-interests

  23. Vernon says:

    Re. the “why isn’t talk of alternative jobs… higher up on their talking points list” question, the answer is pretty simple. If I lived downwind of a leaking mustard gas plant and my neighbors were dying, finding new jobs for the plant employees would not be that high on my talking points list.
    What struck me in the TV news reports I saw was that the reporters/anchors said we counter-protesters raised “environmental” concerns. The thrust of our message, and the signs I saw, was the threat of MTR to our lives and health. I think most listeners associate “environmental” concerns with wildlife and not people’s health. If Manchin spoke about finding a “balance between the economy and human lives” instead of a “balance between the economy and the environment,” would people be less receptive to his message?
    Ken, you’re the expert on “environmental” reporting. Do readers associate “environmental” with human health, or more with wildlife? Obviously we were supporting the EPA’s decision on Spruce, and they have “environmental” in their title, so I can see how some reporters might emphasize that word if they didn’t pay attention to our press release, statements, or signs.

  24. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    thanks for your comments … I wasn’t at the rally, so I can’t really speak to the reasons other reporters covered it the way they did.

    The public health concerns raised by your group and others are pretty important, and they warrant more research … no question about that — and the Gazette and this blog have reported more than anybody else about the potential public health concerns for folks living near surface mining operations.

    But based on the science so far, it’s too soon to draw as tight a connection and direct a connection and you’re suggesting, and EPA said as much in its decision document vetoing the Spruce Mine.

    See page 96 of the EPA document posted here, http://media.wvgazette.com/static/coal%20tattoo/sprucefinalveto.pdf

    My own summary: The studies cited found elevated levels of some diseases within the populations near coal mining operations compared to other Appalachian residents. Those elevated levels of disease can’t easily be explained by other factors (smoking, diet, etc)., but the studies have not yet shown a cause-and-effect relationship between living near mining and having those diseases.

    It’s certainly not unusual in these situations for residents’ own knowledge of the health of their community to be far ahead of what scientists have yet proven. That may be the case here. As EPA says, it’s a topic that needs more attention.

    Some in the industry have been very critical of these studies, but that’s not unusual, either. As a reporter, I’ve tried to write stories that reflect what the studies have shown and what they have not yet shown — balanced accounts of what the scientists say.

    Does that mean coal isn’t killing people? No. In the last decade, 10,000 coal miners died of black lung disease. That’s something everyone should be concerned about.