Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

Capitol Building Commission Meeting
on MTR & "Low-Cost  Energy" Plaques

January 2, 2003
Photos by Vivian Stockman

The Capitol Building Commission met to hear our grievances on the West Virginia Coal Association's (WVCA) interpretation of Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 24 (1999). At the end of the meeting they told us the Commission had no authority about what was on the base of the statue. Ultimately, it seems the WVCA gets to interpret the resolution and have final say over what goes on this monument, in the most public place in the state.

Read the news articles, and the Coal Industry's interpretation, then read the resolution for yourself. Take a look at the flyer the WVCA circulated asking for donations for the monument.  See any mention of plaques, other than a bronze panel for contributors' names? 

The WVCA contends the plaques were public knowledge long ago - we've seen pictures of the miner statue from a while back, but we must have missed the information about the plaques. Coalfield residents, the WVCA also contends, were consulted on the monument, but no coalfield-resident members of OVEC or Coal River Mountain Watch knew anything about this.  We sure weren't invited to the Governor's mansion for a preview.

Didn't anyone privy to what would be on the base of this statue question the West Virginia Coal Association when they said there would be a plaque honoring those who have "dedicated their careers to providing low-cost energy" on this memorial that was supposed to honor miners? Who defines "low cost" energy? The miners who have lost their lives?  The people driven from their communities by mountaintop removal? 

The coal industry unwittingly gave us a clue of how it defines "low cost" when it unleashed ex-WVU coach Don Nehlen as its "Friend of Coal" spokesman. On January 9, 2003, during the West Virginia Coal Associations annual symposium, Nehlen said, according to an article in the Charleston Gazette, Lets get some of these doggone regulations eliminated or at least made sound, so guys can mine coal. I dont exactly know the regulations, but Im smart enough to know that in China, they mine for six bucks a ton, and we have got to be able to compete with them."

Just days later, a blast trapped 33 miners underground in China, with little hope for survival.  The New York Times reported that about 7,000 miners died in China's mines in 2001 alone.

If, as the WVCA says, this monument is intended to honor the economic impact of coal to the state, and to tell the whole story of coal,  then there are some very important elements missing.  

If the monument is about Coal's economic impacts where's the plaque featuring Ole King Coal stuffing a politician's pocket? Where are the plaques for the missing worker's comp money, the billion dollar super tax credits coal got, (much of which Coal got for jobs but used for draglines), the bonding crisis, and the all-but-sequestered abandoned mine-land funds? Where's the plaque for the lost economic value of ecosystems that are forever destroyed by mountaintop removal, the plaque for communities' ruined water? Where's the plaque for the millions in infrastructure damage from overweight coal trucks? For perpetual costs associated with acid mine drainage? For the poverty-stricken area the coal industry once touted as the "billion-dollar coalfields" The list of economic impacts goes on.

If the monument is about the history of coal in West Virginia, where are the plaques for the Mine Wars, the formation of unions, the busting of unions, black lung disease, the Farmington mine disaster and others, the Buffalo Creek coal dam disaster, the recent floods....the list goes on. 

Judy's Bonds addresses the Capitol Building Commission regarding the mountaintop
removal plaque and "low-cost energy" plaque on a state capitol grounds monument
entitled the "West Virginia Coal Miner."

Freda Williams addresses the Capitol Building Commission as author Denise
Giardina (far right) looks on after delivering her own impassioned speech.


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