HUNTINGTON - Federal mine regulators planned a day of bureaucratic discussions about stuff like cumulative hydrologic impact statements and performance evaluations of approved regulatory programs.
Coalfield residents had other ideas. They wanted to talk about strip mine blasts throwing rocks into their yards and coal operators burying streams with mine waste.
On Wednesday, a couple dozen activists took over discussion at the federal Office of Surface Mining's Appalachian Regional Coal Symposium.
Before the event, about 50 people from five states protested outside of the Radisson Hotel in Huntington.
Once the symposium got started, the group - carrying bright red and yellow signs that said, "Save our homes. Save our jobs. Stop mountaintop removal" - marched silently into a hotel meeting room during a welcome speech by OSM Director Kathy Karpan.
Karpan glanced over several times, but continued her presentation. "Welcome to you all," she said. "We'll get to you in a minute."
When Karpan introduced Secretary of State Ken Hechler, a vocal mountaintop removal opponent, the citizens applauded.
After Karpan finished, several young protesters presented her with a "Coalfield Citizens Bill of Rights," from the Washington-based Citizens Coal Council.
"The health, safety, and general welfare of coalfield residents must not be diminished or threatened in any way by the failure of state and federal regulatory agencies to fully and properly enforce the mining laws," the document says.
Many of the protesters left after the presentation to Karpan. But those who stayed didn't sit still for a panel discussion on environmental regulation of coal mining that included Blair Gardner, a lawyer for Arch Coal Inc.
Gardner defended mountaintop removal as a perfectly legal, and very efficient, form of surface mining.
Gardner added that his company's Samples Mine on Cabin Creek in eastern Kanawha County has cleaned up 100 acres of abandoned mines and fixed 20 miles of old highwalls at the site.
"What about what you've torn up?" asked James Weekley, a Logan County resident who lives near one existing and one proposed mountaintop removal mine at Blair.
"Why don't you come down and live in Blair?" Weekley told Gardner. "See what you've done to my community."