Why was Matt Crum fired?
August 26, 2003
Photos by Vivian Stockman
When it comes to DEP, we need all the Crums we can get!
It may well have been a first--coalfield residents and activists
requesting the reinstatement (rather than the firing) of a Division of Environmental
Protection official. With less than 24 hours notice, 22 of us
showed up outside the DEP headquarters in support of Matt Crum, who was
fired from his position as director of the Division of Mining and Reclamation.
Many folks were extremely upset when DEP Secretary Stephanie Timmermeyer
axed Matt. Both are lawyers. Timmermeyer was appointed acting DEP head
in April and was confirmed in June. Matt had been head of DEP's Mining
and Reclamation for just over two years.
Timmermeyer could point to nothing specific that Matt had done wrong.
She claimed it was merely a conflict of management styles that caused
her to axe Matt. But, having lived and suffered too long under the
far-reaching political influence of the coal industry, many West Virginians
reckon Timmermeyer was leaving out a few key details.
Coalfield residents said Matt was seriously concerned for their
safety, and therefore was attempting to require his division begin
enforcing some mining laws related to mountaintop removal. Veterans of
dealing with the DEP said they had never met a regulator so willing to
at least listen to their problems. To be sure, even under Matt, the DEP
has a long, long way to go before it actually is a regulatory
agency--that is, an agency that forces the coal industry to obey mining
laws. But, it is obvious the enforcement steps Matt was taking were just
too much for the coal industry and its buddies. Once again,
would-be-good-guy regulators learn this lesson: try to do your job, and
you will get axed.
We gathered outside the DEP's headquarters in Charleston at 10:00
a.m., asking to meet with Timmermeyer. After some time, Assistant Secretary
Randy Huffman came outside to talk with us, apologizing for taking so
long as he had been getting a statement from Timmermeyer. She said
she was in the Nitro office attending to the day-to-day activities of
running the Mine and Reclamation division, as she plans to have a big
role in the oversight of this portion of the DEP. Excuse me, aren't the
coalfield residents a significant part of the day to day operations of
So off we went to Nitro. There, we waited and waited for Timmermeyer
to come down to tell us the truth about why Matt was fired. TV crews and
reporters waited with us. She refused to come downstairs.
Finally, she sent an Information Officer to tell us she absolutely
would not meet with us just then, but she'd be happy to schedule
a meeting with representatives from each group for Sept. 5. That
didn't go over too well. You see, on Thursday Aug. 21, representatives
from several groups were stood up by Timmermeyer. This particular
meeting (on another mining topic) had been scheduled for several weeks.
We were offered only apologies that Timmermeyer couldn't be there, but
no explanation. The next day we found out Matt had been fired. Seems she
blew us off in order to fire Matt!
Judy Bonds reminded the Information Officer that within days of his
hiring, Matt faced a whole church full of angry citizens. Matt listened
and learned. Through his actions, he began to earn the respect and
admiration of coalfield residents. Timmermeyer's obviously not going to
bring back Matt, despite, or maybe because of, that citizen
What will the Division of Mining and Reclamation be like with her
taking a more active role? We might be able to get a clue from a her
In law school she wrote a law review paper titled "So You
Want to Ban Mountaintop Mining? You May Have to Put Your Money Where
Your Mouth Is." Her paper suggests she is yet another regulator
more concerned with corporate rights than the rights of real people. The
paper lays out the legal arguments a coal company could use to insist
that its "rights" had been "taken" if it obeyed laws
that kept it from scalping mountains and burying streams. Under
Timmermeyer's theory, you and I would have to compensate a coal company
for NOT massacring our mountains.
What really needs to be injected into the "takings"
controversy is an examination of the "taking" of property we
all hold in common--current and future clean air, water and soil. When
will these basic human rights take precedence over a coal companies
"right" to flatten our mountains, destroys our forests and
annihilate our watersheds? Will that happen under Timmermeyer's
Patty Sebok (l) and Maria Pitzer outside the Charleston headquarters of
Donna Price (l), Julian Martin and Judy Bonds outside DEP's Charleston's office.
Randy Huffman (suit, center), Assistant Secretary of DEP tells us Timmermeyer won't see us.
Patty Sebok addresses the crowd at DEP's Nitro offices. The only
person missing was the DEP Secretary, Stephanie Timmermeyer.
Maria Pitzer tell it like it is at DEP's Nitro office.
Timmermeyer chose not to hear Maria--nor any of us.
Elaine Purkey says "Reinstate Matt and Fire Timmermeyer!"
A Public Information Officer tells coalfield residents and reporters
that Timmermeyer absolutely will not come down to speak with us.