Coal Tattoo

Most local readers have probably seen the billboards proclaiming that Appalachia is the Obama adminisration’s “No Job Zone,” citing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to curb the damage being done by mountaintop removal, reduce toxic air emissions from coal-fired power plants, and save the global climate from greenhouse gas pollution.  Of course, those signs are brought to us by one of the coal industry’s many front groups, this one called the “Foundation for American Coal, Energy and Security,” or “FACES of Coal.

FACES of Coal is organized, at least in part, by Brown Communications, a Charleston-based public relations firm operated by former West Virginia Commerce Commissioner (and Gazette wine blogger) John Brown and his son, Bryan.

Now, we’ve written before here on Coal Tattoo about this series of meetings next week being held by the taxpayer funded Coal Forum to “discuss EPA’s War on Coal.” Meetings are planned in Charleston, Beckley and Wheeling where members of the state’s congressional delegation and United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts are scheduled to attack President Obama and EPA, and outline their plans for trying to defeat the president’s agenda on coal-related issues (and who knows — perhaps discuss the coal industry’s plans to defeat the president’s re-election bid).

But yesterday, I found out — through a Freedom of Information Act request to the Tomblin administration — who the state has hired to plan and promote these meetings … and guess who it is:

That’s right … Brown Communications. The same folks who are promoting the anti-Obama campaign of the coal industry are being paid by state taxpayers to, well, do the same thing. If you missed it, as I wrote earlier this week, the Coal Forum is a state effort set up by statute to, among other things, conduct “coal advocacy programs.”  Over the last two years, state lawmakers have specifically earmarked about $60,000 for the Coal Forum. The group is co-chaired by Chris Hamilton, a vice president and lobbyist for the West Virginia Coal Association, and Fred Tucker of the United Mine Workers union, so the group has always billed itself as an industry-labor effort. In the past, the Coal Forum may have worked on educational events about important mine safety issues. But the “events” section of its Website shows it has increasingly been putting resources into attacking the Obama administration and EPA.

When I checked in with Chris Hamilton yesterday, he told me that the Coal Forum’s relationship with Brown Communications was nothing new:

The Coal Forum has had a relationship with Brown Communications for probably 15 years. it’s helped with logistics and setup work for various educational events such as the ones next week.

Chris told me that Brown Communications has also prepared some materials for distribution at next week’s anti-Obama meetings, and that made me wonder if those materials will include any of the statistics cited in today’s Gazette story, Figures show W.Va. coal jobs up under Obama:

As West Virginia political leaders prepare for another round of attacks on the Obama administration’s coal policies, state data show the number of mining jobs is at its highest level in nearly 20 years.

Figures from multiple government agencies reflect the job increases between 2009 and last year, offering a starkly different picture than is frequently portrayed by industry officials and coalfield political leaders.

“Any way you look at it, coal mining employment is at a two-decade high,” said researcher Ted Boettner, who recently analyzed the figures for a blog published by his group, the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy.

Last week, Boettner reported that West Virginia Workforce agency numbers showed nearly 22,700 mining jobs statewide in 2011, the most since 1995. If support industry jobs were added, the 2011 employment was 24,500, again the most since 1995.

Separate figures from the West Virginia Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training show 22,300 direct mining jobs statewide in 2011, a nearly 8 percent increase over employment during 2009, President Obama’s first year in office. The mine safety office figures show last year’s mining employment was the highest in the state since 1993.

You have to wonder how factual any of this Coal Forum effort will be, given some of the stuff that FACES of Coal puts out … like the mention on its Website (below) that coal provides nearly half of the nation’s electricity.

Regular readers of Coal Tattoo know that this figure has become so ingrained in the minds of coal supporters that even top state political leaders like Sen. Jay Rockefeller have trouble keeping it from slipping out of their mouths.  But we know that it’s simply not true anymore. The most recent figures from the Energy Information Administration put coal’s share of electrical generation in the U.S. at 36 percent, and EIA projected that coal generation this year will drop 15 percent compared to 2011 generation.

Writing about the increase in coal jobs under President Obama, Ted Boettner of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, had this to say:

This all being said, the rise in coal mining jobs has very little to do with the actions of the Obama administration and the EPA. The rise in coal mining employment over this period is due more to the recent spike in coal prices from 2005 to 2011, steady decline of productivity, and the counter-cyclical nature of the energy industry during recessions. While there is a good chance that coal employment will be lower in 2012 do to a decline in customer demand for West Virginia coal – which is reflected in the 2012 drop in coal spot prices – this again will not be related to actions by the Obama administration.

… If we can move past the rhetoric and political confusion regarding the plight of the coal industry in our state we might be able to chart a better economic course for our future. However, this will only happen if we first look at the facts.

The question, though is do state political leaders really want to let facts get in the way of their narrative about the Obama administration?