Whitesburg KY

Trucker at mountaintop mine starts pro-industry campaign


West Virginia miners who believe environmentalists are giving the industry a bum rap are planning a campaign to emphasize the importance of coal to the nation’s economy and security.

Citizens for Coal is the brainchild of Roger Horton, a truck driver at St. Louisbased Patriot Coal Corp.’s Guyan mine, a Logan County mountaintop removal site that’s been targeted by environmentalists. Horton envisions Citizens for Coal as a way for miners to educate lawmakers and the public about the industry and counter criticism from environmentalists.

That criticism focuses on mountaintop removal mining, a visibly destructive practice that blasts apart ridgetops to expose multiple seams of coal. Mountaintop mines in Appalachia employ an estimated 14,000 people and produce approximately 14 percent of the nation’s power-producing coal.

“The complete story is just not being told,” Horton said. “We’re going to tell them exactly what it is that we do, show them how it’s done and show them the amounts of taxes that are paid, how these people go about their daily lives, training their children in the lo- cal education associations, the schools, show them just how we live our lives as average Americans and show them that we’re not villains, we’re not out destroying the environment.”

The launch of Citizens for Coal comes as the coal and power industries find themselves under growing scrutiny from Congress and environmentalists following recent waste spills at power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. Environmental groups that have long blasted mountaintop mining are pointing to the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash spills to further the argument that there’s no such thing as clean coal.

“This sounds like another front group for the coal industry,” Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition executive director Janet Keating said in an e-mail. “How many more millions of dollars does this industry have to spend to convince the public that its lies are truths?”

Horton concedes mountaintop mining changes the state’s topography, but adds: “We’re doing it for the good.”

He said the fledgling group recently set about raising money. So far, it has received $2,500 from the Logan County Commission, but Horton plans to solicit more money, starting with the United Mine Workers union local at Patriot’s Hobet 21 mine along the Boone-Lincoln county line.

OVEC co-director Dianne Bady criticized the commission’s donation, saying in an e-mail that giving “taxpayer money to a group that promotes mountaintop removal” is highly questionable.

Commission President Art Kirkendoll says the donation is a good investment.

“A big part of our budget is derived from coal,” Kirkendoll said. “We didn’t think it was out of line.”

Organizing an educational campaign is hardly a novel approach for supporters of the coal industry, which remains the backbone of the West Virginia economy. The West Virginia Coal Association’s Friends of Coal serves a similar purpose, but Citizens for Coal is being organized by people who actually work in mines.

“You don’t need to be a coal miner to be a Friend of Coal,” coal association President Bill Raney said.

Nor does one need to be a miner to join Citizens for Coal, though much of the organization’s board of directors is comprised of Horton’s colleagues at Guyan, as well as a retired United Mine Workers official and two local businessmen.

“I think it’s very specific in terms of the pride of the man that’s working on the job,” Raney said.

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