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Protesters urge Tomblin to plan for coal decline

Read more on Coal Tattoo CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- More than two-dozen West Virginia residents and anti-coal activists visited the Capitol Wednesday to urge Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to better prepare the state for the decline of the mining industry.

Organized by the group Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival, or RAMPS, the protesters delivered a letter in which they told the governor his allegation of an Obama administration "war on coal" is "a dirty lie."

Citing government forecasts and independent studies, the group said industry layoffs and projected production declines are caused not by tougher environmental rules, but by low-cost natural gas, the mining out of quality coal reserves, and competition from other coal basins.

"Instead of confronting the very serious issues facing Southern West Virginia, you have cynically exploited layoffs in the coal industry to boost your election chances," the group said in its two-page letter to Tomblin.

The letter urged Tomblin to form a bipartisan "Citizens Advisory Council on Economic Diversification" to advise the administration on a path forward for the state's coalfields.

"We believe that West Virginians are smart and creative enough to find solutions that work for everybody," the letter said.

The letter noted the series of studies that found higher illnesses among residents living near mountaintop removal and the United Mine Workers' fight to preserve health care and pension benefits for retirees of bankrupt Patriot Coal.

"The industry wants to continue operating, squeezing out the last drops of profit, while abandoning their obligations to retired miners that have given their lives to an unsustainable industry," the letter said.

Protesters first knocked on the door of the Governor's Mansion, where a State Police trooper declined to accept their letter. The group then marched next door to the Capitol, where a staffer in the Governor's Office listened to their concerns and accepted the letter.

Amy Shuler Goodwin, Tomblin's communications director, said the governor left the mansion shortly before the protest began so he could attend an event in Buckhannon. She said the governor had not yet reviewed the letter, but would "review the upcoming calendar" in response to the group's request for a meeting.

"Governor Tomblin has been clear, as have several federal judges, on the overreaching demands of the [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] from this administration," Goodwin said in an email. "Governor Tomblin's primary focus has always been job preservation and job creation.

"Governor Tomblin believes strongly that West Virginia coal and natural gas play a critical role in energy independence -- and he will continue to fight for those industries and the jobs they create," she said.

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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