LTE battle

The primary battlefield for the war against MTR is currently the editorial sections of newspapers. With polls showing that an overwhelming amount of Americans AND West Virginians do not support mountain top removal, the Coal Industry has entered the arena of Public Relations with guns blasting. The following are four recent Letters to the Editor. The first is written by Roger Nicholson, a coal industry puppet. Next is a response to Nicholson by Julian Martin and then a counter response from Nicholson. Finally, I included a draft of a letter I just submitted. I feel that these four letters go a long way in revealing where the battle lines are in this debate.

Hope you enjoy.

 P.S. (unless you know what a ‘vacuous quisling’ is, have your dictionary on standby.)

Article on mine suit shows newspaper’s bias

The Herald-Leader’s anti-coal industry bias was evidenced again in Andy Mead’s article about the Sierra Club’s lawsuit, which seeks to block a permit at ICG Hazard’s Thunder Ridge Surface Mine in Leslie County.

The article set forth prominently and at great length the position of the anti-mining extremists, even including outlandish characterizations of the company’s mining by a Kentucky Waterways Alliance member.

However, the reporter ignored International Coal Group’s detailed response to the lawsuit and to the environmentalists’ bombastic press release, stating simply that the company would defend its permit.

Herald-Leader readers should receive some very pertinent facts. Contrary to the Sierra Club’s disingenuous media statements, ICG Hazard has already reclaimed more than 2,500 previously mined acres at its Thunder Ridge mine.

In connection with its environmental reclamation program and the federal Office of Surface Mining’s Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, the company planted more than 96,000 hardwood and other native species trees in 2007 alone. Reclaimed mine lands at Thunder Ridge host abundant wildlife, including a new, growing population of elk.

ICG subsidiary companies employ more than 1,100 people in Kentucky, and the coal industry supplies fuel for more than 50 percent of the nation’s electrical needs.

The Herald-Leader’s reporting reveals its bias for the agenda of environmental extremists. Unfortunately, the anti-mining extremists appear to be vacuous quislings, whose goals, if met, would betray those whom they profess to protect through destruction of a core industry, sizeable job loss, reduction of tax revenues that fund public roads and schools, and dramatically increased electricity costs.

We merely ask that the Herald-Leader report the news in a fair, balanced and accurate way.

Roger L. Nicholson is senior vice president, secretary and general counsel of International Coal Group, based in Scott Depot, W.Va.

January 13, 2008
Julian Martin

Liquid coal will be costly, too
In his Dec. 16 commentary, Roger Nicholson, a senior vice president of International Coal Group (Sago was theirs) said he wants his children to settle in this beautiful state.
He figures that coal-to-liquid plants will make that possible. What he fails to mention is that those plants will increase already massive mountaintop-removal strip mining. With that increase there may be no beautiful West Virginia left for Nicholson’s children to find jobs. The beauty will be gone with the disappearance of even more mountains and the burial of even more streams.
Jeff Goodell says in his book “Big Coal” that about 3 1/2 barrels of water are consumed for every barrel of fuel made from coal. Nicholson backs Gov. Manchin’s goal of producing 1.3 billion gallons of fuel from coal every year. That will take about 5 billion gallons of water per year, 14 million gallons a day.
Boy, that ought to dry up a bunch of streams, underground aquifers and water wells.
Goodell also says that the carbon dioxide produced in coal-to-liquid plants can be 50 to 100 percent higher than that in the refining of petroleum. Nicholson sloughs off concerns of reputable scientists about the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Nicholson tried to place negative labels on thousands of West Virginians who love the mountains just as they are. He called us extremists, alarmists, obstructive and a vocal minority. Nicholson becomes extreme and alarmist himself in the act of trying to scapegoat people who love mountains more than they do coal and money.
For the coal industry to call anyone else extreme is a knee-slapper. It is hard to imagine what could be more extreme than the massive mountaintop-removal strip mining that will increase with coal-to-liquid plants.
Contrary to Nicholson’s mean-spirited labels, the people I know who love the mountains just as they are more easily fit the labels of gentle, kind, aware and intelligent. They are folks who are indeed alarmed at the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of West Virginia mountains. They are extremely angered by the burying of over a thousand miles of West Virginia headwaters. And the only thing they want to obstruct is the wholesale destruction of the environment, a very worthy obstruction.
Thanks to the First Amendment to our Constitution, we are all free to be vocal. We are not a minority as Nicholson claims; far from it. Even if we were a minority, we still would have the right to be vocal, to express our opinions, to seek mercy from the courts. Vocal is good. Indeed, for democracy to survive we must be vocal when we see crimes against man and nature.
Predictably, Nicholson wraps himself in the flag. He uses the phrases “help our country,” “our nation’s energy needs.” We are called upon to be patriotic, to remain silent, to be a sacrifice zone for the rest of the country. Nicholson seems to be paraphrasing the infamous quote from the Vietnam War: We have to destroy the state to save it and the nation.
And jobs, they never leave out jobs, except at the mine site. When my dad was an underground miner there were over 100,000 miners in West Virginia. Now there are fewer than 20,000. As Larry Gibson says, if that is job-creation, I hope they stop before they run clear out of jobs. Whenever it will save money, coal miners will continue to be replaced with machines. No matter what smoke screens the coal companies put up it is money they care about.
At permit hearings on mountaintop removal and other forms of strip mining, it is always the same: Speakers for the permit stand to make money from the destruction of the mountains; those who speak against the permit are not there for the money, they are there for the mountains.
Those who want more mountains destroyed are in it for the money. Upton Sinclair said it best: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Martin is a member of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy

January 20, 2008
Roger Nicholson

They offer no energy solutions

I read Julian Martin’s Jan. 13 column with interest since his comments were in response to my op-ed piece, “Environmental activists are obstructing W.Va.’s future,” that appeared in the Dec. 16 Sunday Gazette-Mail, and his attacks were directed at me personally.
In his response, Mr. Martin pointed out that my company, International Coal Group Inc., owned the Sago mine (a fact wholly irrelevant to any debate about the state’s energy policy), and implied that I am a criminal “against man and nature,” mean-spirited, greedy and bent on the state’s destruction.
Strong stuff from someone who has never met me. While I admit calling Mr. Martin an extremist, I cannot possibly match him in the fields of personal attacks and irrelevant arguments.
When you sift through his rhetoric, though, and if you read my Dec. 16 commentary, you will see that Mr. Martin himself proves the fundamental points I made then. First, environmental extremists ignore or discount the economic well-being of the thousands of West Virginians, including me, who count on the coal industry for their livelihoods. Second, they attempt to shout down those who dare to disagree with their myopic view.
But above all, they offer no alternatives for the creation of a vibrant, modern, growing West Virginia economy; they offer no solutions for our nation’s energy needs. Instead, they insult those of us who seek a balanced, regulated and appropriate use of the state’s privately owned natural resources to bolster our state’s economy, employ thousands, and lead our state’s citizens to a better standard of living, while uncoupling our nation’s energy needs from current dependence on sheikhs and monarchs.
Indeed, Mr. Martin criticizes the coal industry for using technology and mechanization to boost productivity and improve safety and working conditions. Of course, he could literally criticize any industry, or himself, for benefiting from the technology and industrial revolutions. For example, far fewer people work to produce and print this newspaper than in earlier years, so why isn’t this industry being attacked also? Grocers, bankers and gasoline dealers now use self-serve scanning technology, eliminating jobs in the process. To claim the coal industry is somehow bad because it has kept up with technological innovation — much of which directly leads to safer conditions, increased productivity and lower costs to the ultimate consumer — is cute but ludicrous.
I call on Mr. Martin and his cohorts to offer real facts about the availability of affordable alternative energy and answer some tough questions. For example, how many wind turbines would be required to replace the output of AEP’s John Amos power plant? (The answer is between 1,200 and 1,800.)
How much would alternative energy sources cost? (A lot, otherwise the marketplace would have already adopted these sources as less expensive.)
Why do members of Mr. Martin’s own anti-mining organization admittedly fight also against the installation of wind turbines in the state? (Purportedly to protect birds and “viewsheds.”)
Has the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy considered the economic effects of the success of its campaign to shut down coal mining in the state — including the number of lost jobs, the amount of unemployment compensation to be paid, lost tax revenues and the increase in each consumer’s utility bills? (I don’t think they have. The West Virginia coal industry employs nearly 50,000 people and pays hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.)

The anti-mining extremists should answer these questions. I bet our state’s citizens wouldn’t like the real answers.
One issue that they would prefer not to address is their practice of misleading the public into believing that eliminating coal-powered electricity will improve the lives of West Virginians. The honest answer is that electricity bills will likely triple as electrical service providers are forced to convert to expensive natural gas and imported nuclear power from other states. The effect of higher electricity costs is broadly recognized to have a disproportionately adverse effect on low-income families.
My company works daily to provide attractive jobs by mining coal in an intensely regulated business. Our company contributes generously to the communities in our areas of operations, and we spend millions of dollars each year reclaiming properties that we have mined.
– advertisement –
All of our employees, miners and support personnel alike, are proud of their contribution to our state’s and nation’s economy. We are building a future of balanced, regulated and innovative economic growth. In the meantime, Mr. Martin appears content to sit back and throw stones.
Nicholson is senior vice president, secretary and general counsel of International Coal Group.

My Letter

In his January 20th Gazette article, Roger Nicholson of International Coal Group employs a mix of faulty logic and deceptive focus to lambaste the hundreds who are working for environmental and social justice in the coal fields.  Why is this cause such a threat to Nicholson? He says his livelihood depends on coal, but he needs to be more specific. To be exact, his opulence is attained by exploiting the same people and land he claims to speak for.  Nicholson tries to present mountain top removal as technological progress. He compares it to grocery stores installing self-checkout counters. Mr. Nicholson, what grocery store uses enough explosives every year to equal 27 Hiroshimas? What grocery store has plundered 500,000 acres of the only mixed-mesophytic forests in North America? I could go on. The only real comparison that can be made between the grocery and coal industry is that both have went out of their way to bust unions, and that isn’t progress!  Mr. Nicholson also pretends to worry about the state’s economy. The truth is, most money made by Big Coal is ciphered out of the state and into the pockets of the wealthy who throw back a few crumbs for the poor to fight over. The Coal Economy is the reason southern West Virginia is impoverished because it stifles economic diversity, cheats its people out of fair land and severance taxes, and corrupts its politicians. And now, with mountain top removal, it threatens to ruin the remaining natural infrastructure and beauty that could sustain both new development such as wind farms and water industries and native traditions like hunting, harvesting herbs, subsistence agriculture, and a proud culture.  It will require a lot of work from all of us to create a better political climate necessary save southern West Virginia. But after living here for a while, I think it is worth it.


2 Responses to “LTE battle”

  1. Steve Gardner Says:

    A Kentucky Perspective

    Many recent articles, editorials and commentaries about surface mining that tend to paint the coal industry as OUTLAWS. These articles are filled with numerous mistakes and misconceptions not based on facts. I will be the first to admit that the coal industry has had its share of problems in past years, but what segment of our society has not, including journalism, medicine, law, government, education, etc. Mistakes are made in all walks of life, but society learns from mistakes and moves on, including in the practice of mining.
    Let’s look at Mountaintop Mining which is the focal point of so much recent vitriol. This mining method removes rock and dirt at the tops of mountains, exposing coal seams. Much of the material is returned to the mountaintop creating gently rolling plateaus. Some excess material is placed in engineered fills at the heads of hollows, with new drains or streams reconstructed. This practice is no different than the heavy construction used in building highways. The claim is made that streams are being buried. The practice of filling streams is no different than moving streams for highways, housing or other developments. If added up, those rerouted streams for the places you shop, work or live in Louisville, Lexington or Northern Kentucky would be greater than those affected by mining. Water does not disappear, it is simply rerouted into new stream channels designed utilizing scientific stream restoration techniques.
    The question is, why do we do this? Surely it would be better to leave our natural environments undisturbed. Greed is often given as the principal reason. If that is the case then everyone reading this piece is equally guilty. The truth is we owe our current standard of living and human longevity to the coal resources that our nation has been able to develop in the past decades. Nuclear power is the only option that will replace coal in the short term. There will be new power sources developed in the future, but that will not happen overnight. Another fact is we will always have to mine natural resources, including coal for the raw materials used in our everyday life. Unless we regress to living in caves and using stone tools, this will always be the case, another “Inconvenient Truth”.
    Another fallacy about mining is that companies are literally bulldozing away communities. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The fact is most landowners and communities want the valuable land created by the mining process for future expansion. Many people oppose any sort of expansion, but that is a reality of our society. Go to Pikeville, Prestonsburg or Hazard for examples of how surface mining has benefited communities and is actually promoted by the cities and residents. It is interesting who some of the most vocal opponents of mining actually are, i.e. residents in other parts of the state. Many of the supporters of the so called Stream Savers Bill are actually from Louisville or Central Kentucky.
    Tragedies have happened in all segments of our society. Airliner crashes in Lexington, a fire in Bardstown, bridge collapse in Minneapolis, shooting rampages, a slurry pond collapse, etc. Close examination of events will usually uncover a “Perfect Storm” of circumstances, any one of which if changed may have prevented the incident. Recent letters and commentaries recite a litany of ills supposedly caused by mining, none of which are backed by facts. This is a classic case of spin where untruths are stated so often by misinformed people that they are accepted as fact. There are many scientific and engineering experts who can give evidence that will refute many of the outlandish claims made in the recent articles and opinions in this newspaper. Pictures shown of Mountaintop Mining always show a mining operation in its worst light, when it is totally disturbed. Typical photos of reclamation are almost never shown. When done correctly using the best available technologies and management practices, mining including Mountaintop Mining can be conducted in an environmentally and sustainable manner. Mining is a temporary land use. Modern reclamation techniques restore the land to a condition that is equal or better to its premining condition. Reclaimed mine sites are some of the most valuable property in East Kentucky.

  2. I appreciate your lengthy comment.

    The Coal Industry certainly isn’t the only institution that makes mistakes. On the otherhand, by using careless practices like mountain top removal (which is inherently a disaster even within the law), the industry creates conditions where “mistakes” are commonplace. For example, Massey energy has been fined for 2000 “mistakes” in the past 15 years. Since it involves using 4 million pounds of explosives a day and constructing precarious sludge ponds high above communities, MTR is analagous to a doctor performing surgery while wearing a blindfold.

    Let’s quickly summarize a few recent strip-mining related “mistakes.”
    In 2003, a blast dislodged a boulder that came crashing into the bedroom of a 3 year old boy in Virginia, killing him instantly.
    In 2000, 300 MILLION gallons of toxic sludge spilled in Eastern Kentucky, killing an estimated 1.8 million fish. Though the spill was 30 times more than Exxon Valdez, Massey Energy only paid 5,000 to the state of KY in damages.
    In 2001 and then again in 2003, floods in Southern WV destroyed 4,000 homes and left 13 people dead. Studies have linked an increase in flooding to MTR (the average conclusion is that MTR increases flooding by 55%).
    I could go on, and will go on in future posts (but i am hurrying to respond to this comment).

    You are right that tragedies will always occur, yet that doesn’t excuse a society from taking responsibility to limit those tragedies. By suggesting that a “perfect storm” is often to blame, you are taking the blame off of the culprits and contributing it to an “act of god.” On closer examination, almost every major coal related disaster can be attributed to corporate greed. One independent study of the Buffalo Creek Disaster concluded that the owners of Pittston Coal should be tried for murder. Corrupted politicians and environmental agencies (perpetuated by a largely unaware or brainwashed public), have created a climate that does not discourage tragedies…

    You also claim that most people fighting against mountain top removal do not live in affected communities. In one respect you are right. Most small communities near strip-mining sites don’t have any people left to complain. Once booming cities like Whitesville, WV are now basically ghost towns. MTR has drastically cut the labor force required to mine coal, sending thousands of deep miners down the hillbilly highway into North Carolina. Take McDowell County for example. In 1960 it had a population over 100,000. Today its population is 27,000. Furthermore, MTR jobs are mostly non-union so very little money is around to sustain local businesses. In addition, many people have left because coal or land companies have used extortion tactics to buy up their property, or nearby strip-mining has literally ruined their property by inducing flooding, cracking foundations, or poisioning the water supply. The very few people remaining have little choice but to work as a strip-miner and are intimidated into keeping their mouth’s shut. So you are right that not many people living in the coalfields are protesting.

    On the otherhand, however, four major resistance groups have popped up within the coalfields. For example, Coal River Mountain Watch was founded and is still led by people who are directly impacted by MTR. In fact, having their ancestral homeplaces destroyed caused them to fight back. Google Judy Bonds, Larry Gibson, Ed Wiley (a former strip-miner), to name but a few. I have personally organized dozens of others who have had their land, history, and culture degraded by King Coal.

    You also compare the Coal Industry’s environmental impact to that of shopping malls and urban sprawl. You are right to a point. Certainly Coal isn’t the only institution to damage the environment, but its practices are FAR more degading than anything else. Over a MILLION acres of wilderness has been permanently destroyed by mountain top removal. The Coal industry likes to say that it doesn’t bury streams, but raises them. This is insane. There is more to a stream than a flow of water. Valley fills bury fresh-water streams, everythign in them (including microscopic animals that convert leaf litter into sustenance for larger fish downstream), and the mixed mesophytic cove ecosystems they create. The only thing left is a ditch.

    You also claim that reclaimed mine sites are more valuable. If so, how come only 5% of them have been developed? Those that have been developed create a new set of problems. For example, Mount View High School in Welch was built on a reclaimed site. The day it opened the gym sank 4 inches and the jaws of life had to be brought in to free students from the gym (overall, repairs to the school caused by subsidence damage is over 2 million). Christians ask if the coal company can make the mountains better than god.
    Perhaps one day, MTR sites will support a corridor of strip malls and convenient stores…. One thing is for sure, strip-mining is forever ruining the grandeur, culture, wildlife, and environment of Appalachia.

    Finally, greed DOES play a major role in MTR. MTR is a cheaper way to obtain coal, not the only way. Furthermore, the coal industry precludes Appalachia from capitalizing on its other natural infrastructure, some of which can provide energy. For example, it is confirmed that Coal River Mountain can sustain 19 wind turbines, yet Massey Energy refuses to give up its claim to the land. Soon, the flattened terrain won’t be able to support any turbines.

    Even IF MTR was the only possible way to energize the country (60% of coal in appalachia is exported, btw), why should Southern Appalachia be a sacrifice zone? MTR is allowed to happen because the people effected are politically and economically disempowered. The good news is that communities are starting to realize this and building their own power. Even better news is that people around the country are joining them.

    After 100 years of oppression the peasants are starting to rebel. They are calling for the head of King Coal.

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