Astroturfing vs. Grassroots­—The Debate over Coal Continues

By Sandra Diaz

Fake FACES, false FORCE, and astroturf lobbying. During the past two months, the coal industry was rocked by scandals that stemmed from backfired public relations campaigns.

It started when ACCCE, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, hired Bonner and Associates to help influence Congress to vote against climate legislation. Bonner and Associates sent out over a dozen fake letters using forged letterhead from actual minority, elderly and veterans organizations to members of Congress. Several weeks later, southern electric utility Duke Energy and Alstom Power severed ties with ACCCE, citing opposition to their stances on climate change legislation.

Shortly after, online magazine revealed that a Pennsylvania coal-industry group calling itself Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy (FORCE) was not actually comprised of families. The group, responsible for billboards in Pennysylvania promoting “clean coal,” limits membership to “any Pennsylvania company doing business with the coal industry” and “coal and coal company-related sponsorship.”

A new industry front group, the Federation for American Coal, Energy, and Security (FACES) appeared online claiming to be an “alliance of people from all walks of life who…educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal.” Appalachian Voices’ staff, however, revealed that the photographs of members on the FACES website were actually images purchased from a stock photography company.

Coal Numbers Down

Recent figures show that coal is producing a smaller percentage of the nation’s electricity than ever before. From January to May 2009, coal produced just 45.4 percent of the country’s electricity, and the monthly numbers continue to fall.

Massey Energy, known for being mostly anti-union in West Virginia, hosted a “Friends of America” featuring pro-mining and anti-environmentalist speeches. This rally, held on a reclaimed mountaintop removal site, was called a “labor day” rally, even though the United Mine Workers were holding their 71st annual Labor Day picnic about an hour away.

It’s Getting Hot in Here
Protests continue in southern West Virginia, as Climate Ground Zero and others campaign to end mountaintop removal.

On Aug. 11th, over 100 citizens gathered at the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to ask Secretary Randy Huffman to resign. Four protesters chained themselves to the doors and were arrested. Simultaneously, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and Coal River Mountain Watch petitioned the federal Environmental Protection Agency to take over the WVDEP, citing the state agency’s failure to fill nearly 100 vacant positions in recent years and its inability to protect the environment.

Two weeks later, Laura Steepleton and Nick Stocks conducted a tree sit that halted blasting at Massey Energy’s Edwight mountaintop removal mine in Pettry Bottom, West Virginia. After six days of harassment by Massey security guards, Stocks came down; Steepleton followed later the same day after Massey guards began felling trees around her. Bail for each was set at $25,000.

During the same week, a boulder from a mountaintop removal site in Floyd County, Ky., crashed into an elderly deaf couple’s home. Frasure Mining Company was fined $10,000.

On Sept. 9th, four men blocked the road to Massey Energy’s Regional Headquarters. The protesters were arreseted, three above the age of 50, along with a journalist who was covering the event. The oldest, 81-year-old Ronald Micklem, is now organizing a four-day-long Senior Citizen’s March starting in Charleston, W.Va., Oct. 8th to 12th.

Justice is Served

West Virginia State Police arrested Adam Pauley on Sept.18th, charging him with disorderly conduct, public intoxication and verbal assault in connection with a July 4th event on Kayford Mountain held by individuals working to end mountaintop removal coal mining. Pauley allegedly interrupted the event with others, yelling obscenities and death threats to attendees. He was released on $1,000 bail. No other details were known as of press time.


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