A stake in the future
Even if coal companies were allowed to remove all the coal they wanted by blasting off the tops of mountains, the jobs they say would be saved would last just another 30 years, novelist Denise Giardina said at a rally Saturday at the state Capitol.
"Is it worth 30 years of a few more jobs? Is it worth 30 years of a few severance taxes? Is it worth 30 more years of dependence on coal?" she asked about 550 people in attendance.
The crowd grew steadily for about two hours. People gathered on the Capitol grounds between the governor's office and the mansion. Called the Mega-Rally for the Mountains, the event was in protest of mountaintop removal mining, in which the tops of mountains are cut away to reveal the coal inside.
"Thirty years from now, the generation now in college will be middle-aged. My generation will be in nursing homes. The young people now will look back on this time and they will curse our memory," Giardina said.
"They will curse our memory unless we get involved and change our process."
Elsewhere, supporters collected signatures on a petition to put Giardina on the ballot as a third-party candidate for governor.
When she finished speaking, there was a short chant of "Run, Denise, run."
Giardina said she is seriously thinking about running, but wouldn't be ready to make an announcement until May.
West Virginia should be making plans for an economy after coal, Giardina said. Twenty years ago she researched property values in McDowell County. The coal company owned a third of the surface land and a third of the mineral rights. But the company's property was valued so low that it paid just 16 cents an acre on a third of the county's land.
"And we wonder why that school system needs money?" she said.
Transplanted West Virginians came from Ohio, and fellow coal-mining activists came from Kentucky to speak at the rally. Some had pulled their gray hair into buns or ponytails. Younger ones pushed babies in strollers.
"Before I became an activist, I was a plain old grandma and mom," said Linda Brock, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. That was before mining ruined her family's well. "I was happy being that, but it's hard to live without water."
Signs bobbed above heads, saying, "Save Blackwater Canyon," "Almost Level West Virginia" and "Save Blair Mountain."
The crowd gave a standing ovation to Secretary of State Ken Hechler, and later recognized Delegate Mary Pearl Compton, D-Monroe.
Several speakers stressed a need to change the way political campaigns are funded.
"It's not just the outsiders who would keep us dumb hillbillies," said Marshall University professor Linda Ann Ewen. "It's our own compromised ruling class."
Ewen is also a member of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, which sponsored the rally with the West Virginia Citizen Action Group.
"The people who will be thrown out by campaign finance reform are unlikely to vote it in," Ewen said.
Those who support mountaintop removal would pit environmentalists against out-of-work coal miners, said Ron Stief, minister for labor relations and economic justice for United Church of Christ.
Miners will rally today at Chief Logan State Park in Logan. Gov. Cecil Underwood is scheduled to appear.
"They say the church isn't for workers if it opposes mountaintop removal," Stief said. "They say the church isn't for poor people if it opposes mountaintop removal. Baloney. Baloney!"