Coal Tattoo

West Virginia acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin takes in the reaction from the crowd of supporters greeting him at his campaign headquarters at the Marriott Hotel Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011, in Charleston, W.Va. shortly after being declared the winner in the race for governor. (AP Photo/Brad Davis)

When I heard a brief clip on the radio of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s victory speech last night, I felt a bit of optimism when he said:

My door will be open to all … and I know that the best solutions come from frank and honest discussions and I look forward to having those.

Gosh … maybe newly-elected Gov. Tomblin planned to spend some of his next 14 months in office having truly honest and frank discussions about important coal issues: The coming collapse of Central Appalachian production, the environmental and human health damage from mountaintop removal, the urgent need for greenhouse gas limits to encourage carbon capture and storage projects that could help coal survive a carbon-constrained world.

Then I watched the whole speech. And indeed, there was one sound bite that was deserving of some optimism from folks who believe coal’s downside needs to be addressed and debated by policymakers. That was when Gov. Tomblin said:

I will act on recommendations to make our coal mines and indeed all of our workplaces as safe as they can possibly be — so that our workers, are are the best in America, are able to provide the energy that powers this country and go home to their families each and every night.

That’s great news, especially for coal miners, who are still waiting for any regulatory agency or lawmaking body to take seriously the recommendations from special investigator Davitt McAteer’s team following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster.

A hotel worker carries chairs at the Marriott Hotel in Charleston, W.Va., Tuesday evening, Oct. 4, 2011, where acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin set up his campaign headquarters. (AP Photo/Brad Davis)

But then, Gov. Tomblin followed up his statement on mine safety with this:

I will fight for our state’s coal industry, the backbone of our economy. We will oppose the efforts of the EPA and others to stop production of the most efficient fuel our country knows.

So much for “frank and honest” discussions.

If Gov. Tomblin wanted to really have those discussions, there are things he could do … for example, I noticed a Daily Mail story about the upcoming “Energy Summit” hosted by the governor’s office each year in early December. I’ve been to a couple of these energy summits. And for the most part, they served as little more than industry pep rallies.

Gov. Tomblin could easily instruct the state Division of Energy to put together a more diverse panel of speakers.

Why not invite Dr. Margaret Palmer of the University of Maryland to come and talk about how mountaintop removal is causing “pervasive and irreversible” environmental impacts?  The governor could personally ask West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx to come and brief state leaders on the 18 peer-reviewed studies showing serious health problems associated with living near mountaintop removal sites.

It would be fascinating if Gov. Tomblin arranged for Cornell University’s Robert Howarth or Tom Wigley, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to come and discuss whether a switch from coal to natural gas is really that good for dealing with global warming.

Maybe the governor will invite Rory McIlmoil and Evan Hansen of Downstream Strategies to present information from their important report on the coming drop in Central Appalachian coal production and the potential for wind power to grow in the state’s southern coalfields.

Or perhaps the governor will even bring in the fine folks from the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, who can talk about the dangers of our state relying too much on the boom-bust economy of energy production.

It was a bit humorous to hear Democratic supporters of the Tomblin campaign making much of how they beat back all of the “out of state” money being spent to try to get Republican Bill Maloney elected, and to see my old buddy, state Democratic chairman Larry Puccio, complaining about Maloney taking money from former Massey CEO Don Blankenship. I mean, come now. It’s not like the Tomblin campaign wasn’t hauling in big bucks in campaign cash from the energy industry. Tomblin himself even struck this note during his victory speech:

We came together to tell the outside groups that no one — no one — is going to tell us what to do in West Virginia. We may be open for business, but ladies and gentlemen, West Virginia is not for sale.

Does Gov. Tomblin really want “frank and honest” discussions on these crucial coal industry issues? Or are the next 14 months going to bring just more of the same?