Strange Bedfellows

The strangest bedfellows in West Virginia, the AFL-CIO / United Mine Workers union and the WV Chamber of Commerce, joined hands recently to write an article entitled “Economic cornerstone of W.Va. under attack.”
They are strange bedfellows because the Chamber of Commerce would stomp out the United Mine Workers and any other union in a right-to-work minute. In the article the UMW leadership has teamed up with an organization that wants West Virginia to be a right-to-work state, meaning a right to work for less. Watch out for them snakes.
A union leader and the union busters sing a duet against “activist environmental groups.” They make it sound like to be active in support of one’s beliefs is a bad thing. The coal companies are surely activists when it comes to destroying our mountains, communities and the health of our citizens. Why wouldn’t an environmental group in the mountain state be active in trying to protect the mountains from the total destruction of mountain top removal? Why wouldn’t sane people want to protect our mountains from the assault of mostly out of state environmental extremists like coal companies?
In an old trick to cast doubt on the motives of one’s opponents, Perdue and Roberts make the ridiculous claim that people are not opposed to mountain top removal to improve the environment but to destroy the coal industry. If the coal industry were not destroying our mountains they would get no opposition from environmental groups and the huge majority of West Virginians who oppose mountain top removal.
When my dad was a UMW miner there were 125,000 coal miners in West Virginia, with workers replaced by giant machines, there are now only 17,000. If that is job creation somebody better stop them before it is all machines and no workers. The Chamber of Commerce is no doubt pleased that most of the remaining coal mining jobs are non-union.
The jobs argument will be used until all our mountains are destroyed. When they finish chopping off the top of a mountain they will have to move to the next mountain or jobs will be lost, then another mountain or jobs will be lost and then another. When the last mountain is gone the unemployed miners can look back at the wasteland they have created and see no jobs for their children.
Mountaintop removal is destroying future jobs in the hard wood industry. Oak and Hickory are not growing on so-called “reclaimed” mines. According to the late Bill Maxey, former chief of the West Virginia division of forestry, every year, forever, we are losing 200 board feet per acre of new growth hardwood to mountain top removal. On the 500,000 acres of mountains already destroyed that comes to one hundred million board feet every year forever, and this is just the new growth.
Kenny Purdue and Steve Roberts could not resist wrapping themselves in the flag and claiming that environmental activism is an “…assault on our nation…” Watch out, they may dust off the old standby, “communism.”
My dad, grandpa, stepson, uncles, brother-in-law, and father-in-law have worked in underground union coalmines. My grandpa and grandpa-in-law were in the battle of Blair Mountain on the side of the United Mine Workers, they must be turning over in their graves at the spectacle of their union in bed with the Chamber of Commerce.
The Purdue/Roberts article claims that ours is an “energy state,” which is close to the past claim that “West Virginia is coal.” “Energy state” really means West Virginia is a cash cow for the out of state exploiters and their native collaborators. If ours is an energy state our mountains and streams won’t last much longer.
Mountaintop removal strip-mining has already destroyed 800 square miles of West Virginia, the equivalent of a swath one-quarter mile wide from New York to San Francisco. They have buried 1000 miles of streams, which is longer than the Ohio River. West Virginia is being sacrificed on the altar of money.
We are being told to destroy mountains that could be permanent for jobs that are temporary. Jobs are not what the coal industry is after, they couldn’t care less about jobs. They are after money and that is all. We are told to trade our mountains for taxes while the coal industry opposes taxes on coal, they prefer no taxes. But they like tax breaks. They especially like the tax break for mining thin seams of coal, which is a mountain top removal subsidy. We are told to stand tall for our nation and sacrifice what we love most about West Virginia.
We are not the energy state. We are not coal. We are the Mountain State.

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