"We absolutely don't condone people who use threats, intimidation and general thuggism," said senior vice president Chris Hamilton. However, "from our standpoint, it's more difficult to engage in constructive discussion with someone who has as their primary objective to shut the industry down."
Neither side is backing down.
"People are not going to just roll over and let their livelihood be regulated out of business," said Beckley coal truck supplier Carl Hubbard, who bemoaned "limp-wristed greeniacs" in a recent newspaper column. "God put that coal here for us to mine, in my view."
There have been pleas to tone things down.
In July, after the South Charleston Museum board of directors canceled the premiere of the film "Coal Country" over unspecified security concerns, the West Virginia Council of Churches begged both sides to respect the rights of lawful assembly and free speech.
Months later, executive director Dennis Sparks is still waiting: "There's not a day goes by that we don't lift it up in prayer."
Politicians and power brokers have generally responded by inciting or standing indifferent. Take state Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin: "The Lord didn't create many things without a purpose. But mosquitoes and the EPA come close, I think."
U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd recently became an important exception, rebuking the industry.
"The most important factor in maintaining coal-related jobs is demand for coal," he said. "Scapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counterproductive."
Elsewhere, rhetoric might be dismissed as just that, but the coalfields have a bloody history.
In 1920, a shootout between unionizing miners and coal company security guards left 12 men dead on the streets of Matewan, W.Va. The 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, an armed union uprising, eventually required the intervention of federal troops. During a union strike in the 1980s, car windows were smashed and shots were fired.
"But this is different," said William Kovarik, an associate professor at Radford University in Virginia who studies and teaches the history of environmental movements worldwide.
Now the conflict is between miners and people within their own communities.
"Union and nonunion workers are being told by management that their livelihoods are at great risk from out-of-state environmentalists," Kovarik said. "Management is going out of its way to equate them with terrorists, when in reality, they are their own neighbors, grandparents, retired coal miners and college students."
And dehumanizing your opponent, Kovarik said, can open the door to real violence.
Activist Chuck Nelson, a former underground miner from Glen Daniel, said the longer surface miners face uncertainty, the more the danger grows: The federal government must act soon, one way or the other.
And if the EPA comes down on the environmentalists' side?
"Well," Nelson said, "there's a possibility it might not be safe to live in the Coal River Valley."