Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This news story originally provided by The Charleston Gazette

December 14, 2005

Julian Martin

In coal game, ex-coaches in Hall of Shame

I am a WVU football fan, so much so that I was one of the frozen ones in the zero wind chill at the WVU-Pitt game. I have a degree from and was once an assistant director of Student Educational Services at WVU. Several members of my family have attended WVU and most even got degrees. I played football in high school and one of my sons was an all-state football player. All this is by way of saying that I am a loyal Mountaineer and I have an irrational liking for football.

And just to make it clear that I have nothing but admiration for underground coal miners, my grandfather and his brother fought for the UMW at Blair Mountain, my dad was a UMW miner and lost his eye at Armco Steels Nellis mine. My uncles, my brother-in-law and my son all worked in the coal mines.

WVU fans were proud to read in the Gazette that Don Nehlen had been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. He did a good job competing with some of the best teams in the nation. Heck, his teams twice won every game on the schedule. One year, his team might have won the dad-gummed national championship game had not superstar Major Harris been injured in the first quarter. And who can ever forget the Oklahoma game?

Proud as I am that a WVU coach made the College Football Hall of Fame, it is hard to be proud of Nehlens performance in the coal industry radio ads heard during the recent South Florida game. To my knowledge, Nehlen has no previous experience with the coal industry, whether as a miner, an owner or an executive. He for sure has never endured life down below a mountaintop removal strip mine. The devilish part is that Nehlen comes across on the radio as a good old boy with a grandfatherly voice that could reassure an unsuspecting listener that he is full of wisdom and truth.

Nehlen, joined by former Marshall coach Bob Pruett, pretends on the radio to take us to a coal mine. What we hear in the background are the happy voices of children playing in a schoolyard. This is reclamation, Nehlen purrs. He leads us to believe that this school is typical of so-called strip mine reclamation.

It would have been more truthful to reveal that Mount View High School, which coal companies like to hold up as one of the examples of their success at reclamation, has had a ton of money poured into it to shore up the building from the settling of the reclaimed strip mine. According to a Mount View teacher, the walls and floors in a restroom and in the gym pulled apart. A boardwalk was built around the edge of the gym floor to protect students from falling into the crack. The teacher also said that 13 cubic yards of concrete were poured into a hole that subsided under the gym and that corners of the building had to be reinforced with steel. And there was the day the fire department was called to pry the gym door open when the settling of the reclaimed strip mine trapped the students and teachers inside.

Truth would have been better served if Nehlen had bothered to mention that 95 percent of the acres leveled by mountaintop removal strip mines have no development on them at all. At least 380,000 acres have been left a wasteland with little to no chance of the magnificent Appalachian hardwoods ever coming back.

Nehlen and Pruett demean themselves; they are forfeiting their good reputations.

Many WVU fans are proud that Don Nehlen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. But when it comes to telling the truth about mountaintop removal strip mining, Don Nehlen, and his good buddy Bob Pruett, belong in the Hall of Shame.

Martin is vice president of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy.


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