Coal Tattoo

Photo by Vivian Stockman, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

When the Gazette published the answers candidates in Saturday’s West Virginia gubernatorial primary election  gave to questions submitted to them by the newspaper, a few readers were pretty upset that a specific question wasn’t asked about mountaintop removal (see here and here).

Frankly, it seems pretty forward-thinking to me for the paper to ask the candidates about climate change and about diversifying the economy in our coalfield counties … but since readers wanted more information about the candidates on mountaintop removal, my friend Alison Knezevich sent the candidates a couple of questions on the issue. Updated: Here’s a link to Alison’s Sunday story summarizing the candidates’ answers.

Candidates were asked:

The scientific consensus continues to grow, based on peer-reviewed paper after peer-reviewed paper, that mountaintop removal is causing widespread damage to our water quality, our forests, and the coalfield communities near these mining operations. What specifically, if anything, would you do to change this, and start reducing the impacts from large-scale surface mining in West Virginia?

Would you support a phased-in ban on mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia? Explain why or why not.

The responses are below.


Clark Barnes:

Reports based on scientific evidence do not support your question (which is really a statement), particularly reports provided by the West Virginia Division of Forestry. I would need to take the time to review the reports you have made reference to in order to determine their viability to the issue. There are many (so-called) scientific reports which are without fact, scientific proof or valid data. I would be happy to review the reports to which you refer and evaluate the evidence provided.

(We provided Mr. Barnes several citations to scientific papers, including the January 2010 article in the journal Science, but he did not provide a follow-up response with his further thoughts)

Mitch Carmichael:

1. The efficient extraction and utilization of natural resources is essential to the health and well-being of our communities and the American economy. We must continue to encourage and support safe, dependable, and reliable energy resources like coal. In doing so, we must monitor and protect water, forest, and other effected resources.

2. NO. In my view a ban on this type of mining will cost jobs, damage the economy, and increase the cost of electricity for all Americans.

Ralph William Clark:

1. (i) I support strict enforcement of existing laws regarding air and water quality. I would contest these laws only if it could be demonstrated that they contain overly strict long-term health standards. This has not yet been demonstrated. (ii) Coal companies should pay the complete cost of damage to infrastructure from trucks. (iii) WV should underwrite a survey of scientific studies of MTR’s impact on biodiversity – to ensure a proper balance. A very small loss in biodiversity can be tolerated, but only if there are very large economic benefits. The EPA’s conductivity test is nonspecific for dissolved solids; it should be changed.

2. At this time, I do not support a phased-in ban, but I do favor a moratorium on new permits for MTR unless and until conditions (i)-(iii) are clearly met. These are minimal conditions. I support comprehensive reclamation requirements, and more studies of how current reclamation measures are working out, as well as air and water quality standards, to determine if they should be strengthened. The message that WV must convey to its citizens and the world is that our state upholds strict environmental, health, and safety standards. We do not sacrifice long-term levels of well-being for short-term economic gains.

Ralph Ellis:

Did not respond.

Larry Faircloth:

Coal is so important to West Virginia jobs and, especially now with foreign oil being so expensive for motorists and small business here in the U.S., it is important to our national energy policy. Mountaintop mining, when done responsibly, protects these jobs and helps make coal abundant for electricity and power generation. It must not be done to the disruption of communities and landowners or if dangerous to water systems, rivers and streams. I support mountaintop mining within reasonable environmental parameters.

Betty Ireland:

1. Our policies and processes must ensure that mining activities proceed in a responsible, efficient, and cost-effective manner and assure that the appropriate oversight and controls are in place. We must protect our environment and perform these activities in an environmentally sound manner.

We must work with regulators to insure that mountain-top mining is performed legally and responsibly. We must allow participation by all stakeholders in the permitting process, not make it more burdensome, expensive or laborious.

As Governor, I will hear all perspectives, weigh the arguments, consider all facts, and choose the best way to implement the laws and policies.

2. I would not. Mining activities are critically important to West Virginia and our economic health. Today, mining contributes significantly to our economic prosperity and activity. In 2009, surface mines produced 56 million tons with over 43 million from Mountain-top mining.

Mining and mountain-top mining are important sectors to our economy, and we must keep this industry strong and viable in order to keep West Virginia thriving and our country on the path towards foreign energy independence.

My plans to promote West Virginia’s energy can be found in my An 11 Point Plan to Get West Virginia Working Again at

Bill Maloney:

1. The federal government, especially Lisa Jackson’s EPA and the OSM, is waging a war on coal. These outsiders claim to be for the coalfield communities, but the only result of their policies is the destruction of our people’s ability to support their families. This cruel and cynical assault is anti-West Virginia, and anyone who says otherwise is either lying or foolish. It’s also risky for America, as it jeopardizes our home-grown energy supply and continues our dependence on foreign energy. Everyone supports reasonable, common-sense environmental and safety regulations, and so do I. But we need to mine coal, period.

2. No. When I’m governor, we’ll mine coal, period.


Jeff Kessler:

Did not respond

Arne Moltis:

Mountaintop removal has to be limited because for example in Wheeling old

fashioned miners going into the ground is the prevalent practice. This is good for employment,miners are actually hired,paid a good salary and its good for the West Virginia economy. According to john perdue in our gubernatorial discussion the wv general fund is down to only 126 million. This will not take us to where we want to go. I am 100% PRO COAL and want the prevalent use of old fashioned mining and also to fatten up the WV general fund which is almost broke.

We need the coal to build another power plant between wheeling and the eastern panhandle. The state under my leadership will own the new power plant that uses coal to make electricity and we will sell it to surrounding states.

I learned this from studying American Electric Power in the last three years. This has made them rich and it will definitely benefit our state economy so we can go where we want to go without worrying how we are going to pay for it.

2 I do not want a ban on mountaintop removal because it is more efficient but we need to balance it with old fashioned mining where we hire miners instead of drivers for giant machines.

Former miners I talked to are waiting anxiously to go back into a regular mine like in wheeling and take take care of their families and support wife and children.

John Perdue:

Did not respond.

Natalie Tennant:

Campaign declined to comment.

Rick Thompson:

1. People want, deserve and expect clean water for their families. I think that most operators want to comply with regulations – but they need a process that is consistent, understandable, and attainable. As Governor I’ll work with mine operators, and mining communities to improve the regulatory process. Increasing the number of inspectors to better enforce our existing regulations would be a step in the right direction.

2. No I would not. The economic consequences of that decision would be absolutely devastating to West Virginia. Unemployment is higher now than when Earl Ray Tomblin began acting as Governor. Such a plan would put even more people out of work as companies shifted their investments elsewhere. West Virginia simply can’t afford higher unemployment rates. As Governor, I would work to expand and diversify our economy in the technology and small business sectors so that we could better cope with downturns in coal and other extractive industries.

Earl Ray Tomblin:

1. I grew up in the coalfields of West Virginia, and I strongly believe we need to protect our residents, our miners and our environment. We cannot, however, abandon our abundant natural resources in the process. Our state and our country count on the energy our coal produces, and we should continue to responsibly conduct mining of all types. I believe part of the answer to our dependence on foreign oil is foundin the coal we mine in West Virginia. We must find ways to turn that coal into liquid fuel that powers our vehicles and lowers gas prices.

2. I support fair, consistently enforced regulations that allow companies to know what the rules are before they invest millions of dollars and thousands of hours securing a permit that is randomly thrown out by bureaucrats. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overstepping its bounds when it tries to tell West Virginia how to run its state. We have one of the most beautiful states in the country, and we will continue to protect our environment.