It’s been about three months since some folks from Radical Action for Mountain Peoples Survival (RAMPS) decided it was a good idea to show up on the steps of the governor’s mansion with a barrel of some sort of black water, as part of their effort to get Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to pay even a little bit of attention to the pollution and public health concerns of West Virginians who live near coal-mining operations.
Some readers may recall that the Daily Mail gave a blow-by-blow account of the incident and the police response to it, and that I pointed out the coverage lacked any sort of context about the perfectly legitimate reasons anyone would want to mount a protest about lax regulation of coal-slurry impoundments.
But another thing struck me about this incident, and it’s taken me a while to get the bottom of it. And that’s this line that was pushed by the Tomblin administration that there was no need for RAMPS to organize a protest like this, that if they had only asked to meet with Gov. Tomblin, the governor would have gladly sat down and listened to their concerns. On the day of the protest, the governor’s office said the protester had said he was denied a meeting, but that they didn’t have a record of any such request.
That didn’t seem correct to me. So I went back through previous stories and notes and documents, and in fact RAMPS had asked for a meeting with Gov. Tomblin. They did so as part of a previous event at the Capitol, way back in October 2012. Here’s a blog post about that event and a link to the letter they delivered to the governor’s office that day. As you can see from that blog post, here’s what Amy Shuler Goodwin, the governor’s communications director, said in response to the letter:
… We do have an open door policy here in the governor’s office and will be happy to review the upcoming calendar.
Starting about a week after the August protest, I began asking the governor’s office whatever happened with their promise to review the calendar and whether Gov. Tomblin’s “open door” policy extended to actually meeting in person and talking with any of the folks from RAMPS or officials from other West Virginia environmental groups. Try as a might, I just couldn’t get an answer. So finally, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request.
Basically, Tomblin general counsel Peter Markham told me the governor’s office doesn’t have any documents that would be responsive to my request: No calendar entries, no meeting notes, no correspondence setting up any meetings … nothing. And please understand that I didn’t just ask for records about any meetings the governor might have had with RAMPS. I asked for any evidence the governor’s office had that Gov. Tomblin had personally met with any state environmental group — the Sierra Club, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch, the West Virginia Environmental Council — and the response was the same:
No records responsive to my request.