Coal Tattoo

Way back in October 2011, when he first won a statewide election, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin made a promise about how he would govern our state:

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.

Since then, the reality has been far different, at least when it comes to West Virginia’s relationship with the coal industry, coal’s impact on coalfield communities, and the future of those communities and our state as coal declines in our region. Gov. Tomblin’s public statements — and his policy actions — in this arena have focused on fighting efforts by the federal government to reduce the impacts of coal on our environment, our communities, and the climate. Just last month in his inaugural address, Gov. Tomblin repeated his line of thinking:

I will continue to protect and increase the production of coal in West Virginia … … I will continue to work to improve our job climate.  Unfortunately, for me that means, in many instances, fighting the federal government to get off our backs and out of our way. But it is a fight I will not concede, and I will never back down.

This is not Washington D.C., where the EPA and other governmental agencies engage in back-door policy making that threatens the very livelihood of so many of our fellow citizens. This is West Virginia, where we appreciate the need for reasonable, open environmental regulations but understand the fundamental need for jobs and for low cost, reliable energy developed right here in the United States of America.

Along the way, Gov. Tomblin has said silly things about climate change, ignored the growing science that links living near mountaintop removal to higher risk of serious illnesses, and has tried his best to convince everyone that another coal boom is just around the corner here in Appalachia.

If Gov. Tomblin truly was interested in “frank and honest” discussions about coal-related issues, here are things he could do in his speech tomorrow night:

— Start with a frank acknowledgement that the science clearly shows that the world is warming, most of the warming is caused by human activities (including coal), and that the impacts of this warming are likely to be disastrous for our society.  Then, propose that West Virginians stop ignoring the problem and start doing something about it.

— Tell the state’s coal industry something they don’t want to hear: That a growing body of science shows that mountaintop removal is not only harming the state’s environment, but indicates that residents who live near these mines face an increased risk of serious illnesses, including cancer and birth defects. As governor, Tomblin could easily mandate that the state Department of Environmental Protection begin taking this science into account — or at the least convene officials from DEP and the state Bureau of Public Health to learn about the science from the researchers who have been publishing it.

— Be brutally blunt about the ongoing decline of the coal industry, and the fact that it seems unlikely that another boom is coming for the Appalachian mining sector — and start serious discussions among state leaders and residents about how West Virginia can begin to plan a more diverse economy that includes a far lesser role for coal.

— Admit that so far the administration has dropped the ball on implementing its own coal-mine safety bill (see here, here, here and here), acknowledge that the legislation wasn’t really so comprehensive in the first place, and take another shot this session at serious reforms.

The speech is at 7 p.m. tomorrow and will be streamed live on the governor’s website.