NYT: West Virginia Coal Miners’ Group Urges Tennessee Boycott

Published: July 20, 2009

ATLANTA — Coal miners and their employers in West Virginia are encouraging a boycott of travel to Tennessee in retaliation for Senator Lamar Alexander’s support of a federal ban on a type of mining known as mountaintop removal.

The idea for the boycott surfaced after a large group of opponents from West Virginia attended a Congressional committee hearing in late June on a bill that would forbid the pollution of streams with debris from surface mining techniques like mountaintop removal, said David Moss, director of governmental affairs for the Kentucky Coal Association.

Mr. Alexander of Tennessee is the only Republican to co-sponsor the bill, the Appalachia Restoration Act, and an official from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation testified in its favor.

In response, two mining companies canceled their annual company picnics at Dollywood, Dolly Parton’s amusement park in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, according to a letter from Richard K. Phillips, an executive of Coal-Mac in West Virginia. A mining equipment company in Kentucky urged its employees not to visit Tennessee. A miner support organization, Citizens for Coal, chimed in. The letter was first reported by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

In his letter to several chambers of commerce in Tennessee, Mr. Phillips, the Coal-Mac executive, said 80 percent of Coal-Mac’s 300 employees traveled to Tennessee monthly, and that the cancellation of two company picnics would cost Tennessee more than 3,000 visitors.

“If you want our industry’s business, we suggest you let your representatives know that the industry they are trying to destroy is a major source of your tourism money,” he wrote.

Coal mining is a relatively small industry in Tennessee, generating $67 million compared with tourism’s $14.2 billion. Mr. Alexander brushed off the boycott, saying, “Every year, millions of tourists come to Tennessee and spend millions of dollars to see our scenic mountaintops, not to see mountains whose tops have been blown off and dumped into streams.”

As concern over the polluting effects of mountaintop removal has mounted, miners feel cornered, said Mr. Moss, of the coal industry group, adding that thousands of jobs are at stake.

“This has become such a hotbed issue that people are getting very worried,” he said. “There was real angst over Senator Alexander when he first sponsored the bill.”

Still, one company, TECO Coal, backed away from its initial support of the boycott, issuing a statement that read, “We regret our previous action, which was an emotional response that doesn’t benefit our 1,200 employees, the eastern Kentucky communities we support, the environment we work to protect or our neighbors in Tennessee.”



TOXIC: Goals Coal plant, which contains a coal processing plant, a toxic waste dump and a massive mountaintop removal site, is a few hundred feet from the Marsh Fork Elementary School.  photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2008
TOXIC: Goals Coal plant, which contains a coal processing plant, a toxic waste dump and a massive mountaintop removal site, is a few hundred feet from the Marsh Fork Elementary School. photograph (c) antrim caskey, 2008

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Pittsboro, NC – Spending a summer weekend listening to music will help to ensure a safe school for hundreds of children.  How?  The Mountain Aid concert June 19-20, 2009 at Shakori Hills Farm in Chatham County, NC benefits Pennies of Promise, a grassroots campaign to construct a new building for Marsh Fork Elementary School in West Virginia.

Tucked into the heart of Appalachia, Marsh Fork Elementary sits in the shadow of a Mountain Top Removal coal mine, just 225 feet from the coal silo and 400 yards downstream from a leaking dam holding back nearly three billion gallons of toxic sludge.  Independent tests prove coal dust contaminates Marsh Fork Elementary, a direct threat to the children’s respiratory health.  Grandfather Ed Wiley began Pennies of Promise after his granddaughter got sick and West Virginia leaders told him the state could not afford a new school in a safer location.  The goal?  Raise eight million dollars and create a healthy future for the children of Appalachia. That’s where Mountain Aid comes in.

Grammy-winning singer and songwriter and West Virginia native Kathy Mattea will emcee and headline Mountain Aid.  “Hosting Mountain Aid is the best way I can think of to spend my 50th birthday.  I love these mountains, and to celebrate them and unite with others who love them, through music, is a great opportunity,” Mattea says.  Other performers include Ben Sollee, named one of NPR’s “Top Ten Unknown Artists” of the year for 2007; American music icon Donna the Buffalo; and roots rockers the Sim Redmond Band.

Advance tickets for Mountain Aid are on sale now for $22.50 ($30 at the gate).  On-site camping, food and craft vendors will be available.  For more details, visit  www.mtnaid.com.

Why hold Mountain Aid in North Carolina?  According to Duke Energy, North Carolina is the number two consumer of Mountain Top Removal coal in the country.  Additionally, a bill before North Carolina lawmakers would ban the use of Mountain Top Removal coal in the state.  Mountain Aid organizers hope both to raise funds for Pennies of Promise and to create awareness and support for clean energy.

Mountain Top Removal mining, the practice that causes the environmental harm in and around Marsh Fork Elementary, is the subject of the award-winning documentary, “Mountain Top Removal,” directed by Michael O’Connell.

“Mountain Top Removal” has played film festivals domestically and internationally and won the Reel Current award selected and presented by Vice President Al Gore at the 2008 Nashville Film Festival.  In conjunction with Mountain Aid, the film will screen on June 19 at 7:30 p.m. at the Carolina Theatre in Durham.

Mountain Aid thanks our generous sponsors Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Coal River Mountain Watch.


Study tests elk herd’s tolerance of coalbed gas development

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The Fortification Creek elk herd roams the isolated sage brush country and steep rocky breaks of the Powder River Basin. The herd is prized by hunters for its trophy class bulls. The herd also lives in a region ripe for coalbed natural gas development.

Given the confluence of pressures, government wildlife officials have joined with the University of Wyoming and energy companies for a $500,000 study aimed at figuring out how much energy development the elk can tolerate. Biologists recently collared 39 of the animals to monitor their behavior over the next four years.

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