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Rally for Coal pushes back against EPA

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- About 400 people gathered inside the state Capitol on Thursday afternoon to protest the recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decision to cancel the Spruce No. 1 permit for a new mountaintop removal mine planned by Arch Coal.

About 80 opponents of mountaintop removal also showed up.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin chaired the "Rally for Coal" inside the state Capitol.

"This rally is not about one coal company. It is not about lobbying for the industry," Tomblin said. "This is a rally to let Washington know that, by blocking that permit, they crippled a community of living human beings. ...

"This is a rally about jobs, plain and simple. When you create an atmosphere of uncertainty, you hurt our economy. You hurt our jobs.

"What the EPA has done is fundamentally wrong," Tomblin said.

The Rev. Mitchell Bias, from the Delbarton Regional Church of God, delivered the invocation.

"Coal is your will. You placed it here on earth. It is part of your master plan," Bias said. He prayed to God that 2011 "will be safe and secure for mining and the most prosperous year for mining."

Marie Gunnoe, an organizer for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said, "Something the coal industry needs to understand is that people are dying from the impact of coal on our health. They are ignoring us.

"We need to protect children in our future generations. We have a right to live here where we grew up."

Gunnoe led a group of mountaintop removal opponents, some of whom marched from Laidley Field to the Capitol. In 2009, she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize for her work.

"Mountaintop removal is no longer a jobs issue," she said during the march. "It is a health issue. They are killing us by destroying our mountains and destroying our water."

Gunnoe, who lives in Bob White, Boone County, said, "Six generations of my family have lived there. We have every right to stay there. Don't we have the right to protect our water?"

Some people attending the rally wore black "Friends of Coal" T-shirts reading, "Pro-Christ, Pro-Life, Pro-American, Pro-Guns, Pro-Coal ... Republican."

Some placards read, "We Support WV Coal" and "Got Light? Thank a Coal Miner."

Diann Kish -- the granddaughter, daughter, wife, and mother of coal miners said: "We are very proud to be coal miners. We've got to stand up now."

Acting Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, said the Senate unanimously passed a resolution asking the EPA to reconsider its decision revoking the permit.

"Mining in West Virginia can be done in a safe, efficient and environmentally friendly manner," Kessler said. "And it will."

House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said, "I am the son of a coal miner and a lifelong resident of a region that owes everything to this industry. ...

"The coal industry is willing to play by the rules. But we need to know what they are."

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said, "This is a bipartisan issue. We need to call upon the president. He is the one who put these [EPA] people there.

"Don't let this radical environmental philosophy destroy West Virginia."

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said, "This is not a Republican issue. It is not a Democratic issue. This is a West Virginia issue."

Supporting statements were sent from Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.; Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.; Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said, "The hardest working, best people in America are coal miners ....

"I wrote a letter to all of my 534 colleagues in the Senate and the House," Manchin said. "Unless you rise up and join me [in opposing the permit revocation], it will happen to you tomorrow."

Roger Horton, a United Mine Workers leader from Logan County, said, "We need coal to supply our energy needs now. And we will need coal way into the future."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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