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UMW's Roberts tired of compromise

United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts on Friday told a crowd of coal miners that he's tired of trying to compromise with environmentalists.

Roberts gave no ground to calls for an international global warming treaty, additional power plant air emission cuts, and new limits on mountaintop removal mining.

"You can't say don't burn it in Washington and don't mine it in West Virginia and say you're not trying to take the jobs of every coal miner in the United States," Roberts shouted. "And I'm here to say no, no, and hell no."

Roberts delivered a fiery speech as the keynote to another "Coalfield Justice Rally" to protest a court ruling that halted permits for the largest mountaintop removal mine in West Virginia history.

The Cabin Creek native called a group of UMW pensioners and miners' children to the podium, and challenged environmentalists to tell him where money for retiree benefits or young people's futures would come from without coal.

"Look in these children's eyes and tell me it's fair that they cannot grow up in the state they were born in," Roberts said. "Is it right to tell them to go to North Carolina and meet new friends in a strange place and graduate from a strange high school somewhere in North Carolina?"

About 500 miners and their families gathered on the north steps of the Capitol just before noon for the event.

After about an hourlong rally, the group marched down Kanawaha Boulevard to the federal courthouse to protest the ruling by Chief U.S. District Judge Charles Haden II.

"Hey hey, ho ho, Judge Haden has got to go," the miners chanted.

The turnout was one-quarter of those who showed up at a similar rally two weeks ago, and far less than the 5,000 to 10,000 some promoters were predicting.

Roberts had given all UMW miners nationwide the day off Friday, and said he was disappointed - but not necessarily surprised - by the low turnout. Miners also had Thursday off as a union holiday.

"Yesterday was a holiday and today's a day off," Roberts said. "Saturday and Sunday makes it a vacation.

"You do me a favor, though," he told the crowd. "When you go home, you tell those people that if they don't start rallying soon, they'll be on a long vacation."

Gov. Cecil Underwood, state coal lobbyists and operators, and coalfield elected officials joined Roberts and UMW District 17 President Bob Phalen on the podium.

Underwood touted a new state law, which he signed Thursday, as the answer to many of the complaints about mountaintop removal. Underwood said the law was based on recommendations of a task force he appointed to study the issue.

The last time the union called a contract-sanctioned memorial day off from work, it was so that miners in West Virginia could vote for Democrat Charlotte Pritt over Underwood in the 1996 election. Underwood won easily.

On Friday, Underwood said, "I have no apologies for saying that I am a friend of the coal miners of West Virginia."

Roberts said he anticipated snide remarks about his appearing with Underwood and with coal lobbyists. But, he said, "That's what the Bible tells us to do."

At the Capitol rally, Logan County coal operator Rick Abraham gave a lengthy speech attacking The Charleston Gazette's coverage of mountaintop removal. Abraham named a reporter and editor, and said they have become "pimps for the environmental extremists."

"To those of you who are working on a surface mine, you are not breaking the law just because The Charleston Gazette says you are," Abraham said.

Abraham also called the fight to curb mountaintop removal mining "economic genocide."

Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said any legal problem with mountaintop removal "is all paperwork, and paperwork shouldn't be taking your jobs and your livelihoods."

Roberts said he would not back down from criticism of the environmental community, including calling them "extremists."

Roberts said his involvement with environmental issues for the UMW goes back more than 15 years, to the union's fight against new Clean Air Act rules to limit acid rain.

Then, Roberts said, national environmental groups refused a UMW-brokered compromise that would have lessened the legislation's impacts on the coal industry and miners.

More recently, Roberts said, environmental groups will not work with the UMW on a compromise on the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change.

And now in West Virginia, he said, the union believes environmentalists are using their federal court lawsuit to try to shut down all mountaintop removal mining.

"Where are we today?" Roberts said. "Kicked in the teeth again by the environmental community. We're fed up, and we're fired up."

Roberts said, though, that his emotional speech was not intended to drive miners out of control. He said if anyone "got out of hand," that would be an excuse for the UMW's critics to "put all over the front page of the paper: 'Radicals riot.'"

During a short speech at the federal building, Terry Vance, an officer of UMW local 2935 in Sharples - where 400 miners are facing layoffs because of Haden's ruling - responded to a church organization's call for peaceful debate of mountaintop removal issues.

"None of us are going to hurt anybody," Vance said. "We don't want violence. We are peaceful people.

"This is a war, but it's a war of words," he said. "And I don't intend to lose."

To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.


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