Column: Fred Tucker and Chris Hamilton
DAN Radmacher's opinion piece "Coal hurts those it pretends to help," in the June 19 Gazette, is an affront to the thousands of miners, contract employees and coal operators working in one of West Virginia's most important industries.
The West Virginia Coal Forum, a coalition of UMWA members and coal industry officials, is grateful to the Gazette for the opportunity to respond to what we feel distorts the reality of contemporary mining activity in West Virginia.
Like some kind of editorial carpet-bombing, Radmacher's piece is indiscriminate, irresponsible and grossly inaccurate. In one fell swoop, he succeeds in offending everyone associated with the coal industry. He demonizes coal operators, the state Legislature and the governor, patronizes the hard-working men and women in the industry, trivializes the importance of coal to the state's economy, accuses companies of forcing coal haulers to illegally and dangerously overload their trucks, insults the communities adjacent to the mines and refuses to acknowledge any improvements in miner health and safety or reclamation.
The article constantly refers to problems that occurred years ago, many of which predate the 1977 Surface Mining Act and the significant improvements that have been made in miners' health and safety over the past two decades. The coal industry and the UMWA have negotiated contracts, worked in the state and federal legislative process - many times as adversaries - and even worked together to make fundamental changes that have resulted in a responsible industry that provides more than 20,000 jobs to the families of hard-working West Virginians.
None of us will ever forget the abuses that have occurred in the industry over the past century. Nor should we! Many lives were lost, and some of the lands still bear the scars of the unregulated, and many times irresponsible, acts of years gone by.
But Radmacher would like you to believe that those same abuses are taking place today, and that is simply not true. In his zeal to oppose the mountaintop removal process of surface mining, he cites the most dramatic examples of abuses that have occurred in the past century - both in human and environmental terms - but fails to acknowledge the high-tech nature of today's business and the improvements that have been made in every facet of the coal industry.
Under current state and federal law, mine companies are required to meet very strict standards to reclaim the land that is mined. However, many companies go beyond these requirements to repair the environmental damage done by mining operations prior to the 1977 Surface Mining and Reclamation Act.
In fact, the Samples mine, owned by Arch Coal in Kanawha County - and one that Radmacher visited - has voluntarily eliminated more than 20 miles of abandoned highwalls, cleaned up millions of tons of old coal refuse and eliminated or isolated three underground mine fires. Radmacher obviously chose not to inform his readers of this example of a company significantly exceeding its environmental responsibilities.
Why? Because he and other environmental extremists have one agenda in mind: to eliminate the coal industry from the state economy.
Radmacher uses an extended quote from historian John Williams who he (Radmacher) admits, "I tend to agree with." One of the excerpted statements says it all: "Coal is a curse upon the land that yielded it." We certainly hope that Radmacher's opinion is not shared by the entire editorial board of the Gazette.
The most highly trained and highly paid miners in the world are in an extremely sophisticated and competitive mining industry in West Virginia. Their productivity has enabled our state to account for 50 percent of all U.S. coal exports. Closer to home, we are one of the top coal producers in the United States, and our efficient operations result in very inexpensive electric utility costs for West Virginians.
We have also made tremendous strides in reclamation techniques and in coal miner health and safety, and we are committed to doing better.
On behalf of the thousands of West Virginian men and women who mine coal, we urge the Gazette to provide more balanced reporting on the issue of mountaintop removal and understand the importance of this method of mining to the future viability of the coal industry and the preservation of thousands of jobs in West Virginia.