Tomblin did not address a variety of setbacks in his administration's implementation of a 2012 mine safety law the governor called "comprehensive," or discuss a new lawsuit and a state-sponsored report that called for far more broad-reaching safety and health reforms.
"I am distressed by the lack of consideration for mine safety in the governor's speech," said Caitlin O'Dell, a Greenbrier County woman whose husband was killed in a November 2012 mining accident.
O'Dell is one of two petitioners asking the state Supreme Court to step in to end a 3-3 deadlock between industry and labor members of the state's Board of Coal Mine Safety and Health on requiring "proximity detection" technology that would protect miners from being crushed by fast-moving underground mine equipment.
"I had hoped he might recognize the need to restructure the Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety," O'Dell said. "With coal being one of our major industries, the safety of our miners should be a major priority."
In his speech, Tomblin did repeat his promises to "never back down" from what he called the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's "misguided policies on coal." But he added that, "we should remind ourselves a challenge doesn't always lead to confrontation." The governor recalled his meeting last summer with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and said, "We have been hard hit" by agency policies, but added, "With planning and perseverance I believe the obstacles can be overcome."
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said his group would be happy with a less confrontational approach, but is far from convinced that EPA is interested in what the coal industry has to say.
"If we can achieve something that way, then that will be great," Raney said. "It's a great idea, but they won't even talk to us. I'd love it if we could sit down and have a reasonable conversation."
Boone County native Dustin White, an activist with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, said he was disappointed -- but not surprised -- that the governor did not mention the growing scientific evidence showing that residents near mountaintop removal operations face greater risks of serious illnesses and premature death.
"He talked a lot about things being like a garden, but you can't really grow a garden with poisoned water," White said.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said it was "very disappointing" that Tomblin did not mention and offer support for creation of a "future fund." Boettner's group has championed the move, which has received backing from leaders in both the House and Senate.
But Jeremy Richardson, a senior energy analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that Tomblin's comments about how "a challenge doesn't always lead to confrontation" could provide an opening for better discussions about the state's future.
"There's an actual tone of 'we could work with the EPA', and I thought that was encouraging," Richardson said. "I think it's time for a new conversation. It's time for a new way of thinking about these issues."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.