Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

 

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Plaque Protest

Miner monument, coal trucks topics amid interims

 

Honor Miners, Not Machines that Take Their Jobs
(Keep the Mountains, Remove the Plaque!)

October 21, 2002
Photos by Vivian Stockman

Page 1 (Photos/Text)
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In 1999, the WV Legislature approved a resolution to erect on the State Capitol a West Virginia coal miner statue "as a lasting memorial to the many who have perished as a result of coal mining in the state."

Apparently, the West Virginia Coal Association quietly went about gutting the original intent of the memorial.

While environmental and citizens groups fully support a monument that honors coal miners, we cannot accept how the coal industry seems to using the monument for its own purposes.

In mid-October, 2002, the base for the statue went up, revealing plaques which seem to move the WV Coal Association's public relations' efforts off billboards and onto the State Capitol grounds. One plaque features the controversial and legally questionable practice of mountaintop removal coal mining. No where in the Legislature's resolution is it stated that the monument will include a plaque featuring the draglines of mountaintop removal.

News stories revealed that another proposed plaque may include wording that is a virtual coal industry ad: "In recognition of the men and women who have devoted their careers to providing the state, country and world with low-cost household and industrial energy."

No where does the monument, as it is now configured, pay tribute to those who have lost their lives.

How did honoring lives lost become honoring careers dedicated to "low-cost energy?" This phrasing is especially offensive when you consider what miners, the public and the environment have endured from the coal industry for over 100 years. Our lives and our land are not cheap!

The WV Coal Association says these plaques depict the history of mining. If that is what they want to do in this public place, the public says let's tell the whole story.

The whole story would include mention of (and this is far from an exhaustive list!): --miners' lives lost to mine wars, tragedy and lung disease; --miners' jobs lost to the machines depicted on these plaques and to union-busting coal company tactics; --communities, forests and streams lost to mountaintop removal; --surface and groundwater forever destroyed or heavily polluted by valley fills, sludge impoundments and blackwater spills; --democracy lost to political corruption.

To tell the whole story, we are going to need a really big monument.

Members of OVEC, Coal River Mountain Watch, West Virginia Highlands Conservancy, West Virginia Environmental Council and Citizens Coal Council gathered around the mountaintop removal plaque on Oct. 21, 2002. The brothers and sisters and daughters and sons and grandchildren of miners spoke their outrage at what the WV Coal Association has done with this memorial that was supposed to be about their families, but is instead an etched-in-bronze coal industry propaganda piece.

If the plaques so far placed upon this monument are to remain on display in the most prominent public location in the state, then the public should have input concerning what they depict.

We, the members of the above groups, delivered a letter to the Capitol Building Commission and the Governor. We noted that if this public monument is to truly honor miners' lives and tell the history of the coal industry, coal-related tragedies must be included. Otherwise, the monument should feature only the statue of the miner and a plaque that is a carefully-worded memorial to those who have lost their lives to the coal industry. Coal industry ads and the bronze memorials to its criminal behavior should be removed from this monument in the most prominent public place in West Virginia. 

We're sure the WV Coal Association would love to gaze upon the mountaintop removal plaque in their privacy of its office building.


Donna Halstead opens the protest.
Text of Donna's opening statements.

Patty Sebok, a miner's wife, gets her point across.

Author Denise Giardina, center, grew up in a coal mining family, living in a southern West Virginia coal camp. She asks," What other state in the nation would destroy its mountains, then put up a plaque honoring that destruction?"

Julian Martin's dad and granddad were miners.

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