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Mountaintop mining adds Newsletter Changes little to West Virginia economy
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by Bill Price | 2008

Written by Sierra Club's Environmental Justice Coordinator, this article was printed in the Herald-Distpatch on November 18, 2007.

I lived in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia for more than 35 years. My father was a miner, and I’m fully aware that coal put food on our table and clothes on our backs. So, I get incensed when people say that to be against mountaintop removal mining is to be “against coal.”

Let’s face it. Mountaintop removal is not the type of mining that brings huge amounts of jobs to the communities where the mining is happening. The current controversy over the Jupiter Mine is an example. If we enforce the law and stop dumping fill in the valley, then we might lose 39 jobs. But if that coal were being mined by conventional methods instead of blowing up the mountain, then that would generate around 200 jobs.

I’m not saying that the 39 jobs are not important; certainly they are. But compared to times past, mining is not bringing the jobs to West Virginia that it used to. The West Virginia Coal Association would point out that the employment figures do not include other jobs at gas stations, carryouts, grocery stores, etc. But those types of jobs, if indeed they are linked to coal, have also suffered due to the documented decrease in mining jobs.

One only has to look at the poverty rates, high school dropout rates and other figures to determine that the coal regions of West Virginia fall behind the rest of the nation. But the industry continues to tout this as a jobs versus the environment issue. And it’s simply not true.

People such as Maria Gunnoe and many others recognize that our past is not our future. For that, they need to be applauded, not threatened and ridiculed. Every year, more and more people recognize that if we are going to have a sustainable economy in West Virginia, we must transition from coal to a new energy economy. Groups such as the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia Highlands, Coal River Mountain Watch, Sierra Club and others work every day to help facilitate that transition in such a way as to ensure a bright future for our children and grandchildren.

We are not supportive of the immediate closing of all coal mining. We do, in the spirit of community health, safety and economic well being, support the abolition of mountaintop removal mining.

The people I work with across this state are advocating for cleaner forms of energy. We feel that the economic future of this state would be better served by the jobs that would come with renewable and sustainable energy. And the number of those jobs would be significant.

A recent study by the Perryman Group estimates that transitioning to an economy based on renewable energy would create 13,898 jobs in West Virginia, including 2,200 new manufacturing jobs and 2,013 new construction jobs. An additional $884 million of economic activity would occur in West Virginia.

We have a choice. We can continue to listen to the coal industry scare tactics of economic doom unless we continue along the path that has not worked. Or we can listen to forward-thinking community leaders who are advocating for real job growth and environmental sanity where people can breathe clean air and drink clean water.

I believe that we can have good-paying, long-lasting, union-organized jobs where we don’t have to destroy our communities in order to prosper. I would say to the workers at Jupiter and other mines in West Virginia, come join in that effort. Join us in working toward a better West Virginia.

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