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WVU Student Sierra Coalition Petitions University to Reject Coal Money
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by Joe Gorman, WV Sierra Student Coalition | 2010

WVU SSC gets 1,000 signatures rejecting future donations to the University from coal corporations

At 11:00 am on December 9, delegates from the West Virginia University Sierra Student Coalition presented more than 1,000 petition signatures to university president Jim Clements at his office in Stewart Hall in Morgantown.

In the petition, faculty, students, and Morgantown residents asked the university to reject future donations from coal corporation CEOs Bob Murray and Don Blankenship. They also demanded that the WVU College of Engineering and Mineral Resources chair be named in honor of the miners who made the ultimate sacrifice, and not Murray, whose criminal negligence caused their death. Clements discussed the students’ concerns with them, admitted that he was still “the new guy” in learning how to run the university, and agreed that future donations should undergo closer ethical scrutiny.

At the event, the WVU SSC issued the following statement:

“As students of West Virginia University and members of the Sierra Student Coalition, we are greatly disturbed by the political and financial affiliations of our university. West Virginia University has received $1.5 million from two corrupt coal company leaders, Don Blankenship and Bob Murray. Both of these men have threatened the lives and health of innocent people through their companies’ practices. WVU has even honored Murray by creating a chairmanship in his name.

“Blankenship’s company, Massey Energy, has come under attack for building a coal silo at their coal processing plant next to Marsh Fork Elementary School in southern West Virginia. This plant has worsened the air quality for children at the school, and a survey conducted in 2005 shows that the children at Marsh Fork experience high rates of respiratory illnesses and other health problems. Students also complain about strange odors and coal dust inside their school. The Raleigh County School Board has voted to request funds to build a new school for the children, but Massey Energy has refused to supply any of the funds themselves. Massey Energy has also injected over a billion gallons of toxic coal slurry underground in Mingo County, WV. Now, residents of Mingo County have contaminated groundwater and alarmingly high rates of gallbladder disease, cancer, mental disorders, and several other health problems.

“In 2007, one of Bob Murray’s mines in Utah collapsed and killed six workers and three rescuers. This same mine also had 325 safety violations, 116 of which were said to be ‘significant and  substantial.’ The Mine Safety and Health Administration fined Murray $1.43 million for the violations that directly contributed to their deaths, but Murray has refused to admit fault for this catastrophe.

“So we ask James P. Clements, our university president, that our school no longer honors or affiliates with these two men. Our school should set a good example for its students. If our university forms a buddy system with the crooked, then which institution can be expected to do the right thing?”

Dan Kim, a university spokesperson, issued the following statement after the meeting: “WVU President Jim Clements is in receipt of the Sierra Club petition presented to him this morning. He met briefly with the Club’s student leadership and had a very good conversation with them. As has been reported, this gift was negotiated by the College of Engineering and accepted through the WVU Foundation. These officials have made it clear that the gift was given in good faith from a donor who was appreciative of a University that educated his sons and is engaged in significant research in mine safety and the extraction and utilization of coal resources.”

The event follows on the heels of a December 7 rally in Charleston where hundreds came to hear Bobby Kennedy speak out against the atrocities committed by Blankenship. “Today, Massey Coal is succeeding in doing what the glaciers couldn’t do, which is to cut down and flatten these landscapes and destroy these ancient forests,” Kennedy said. “It was God who made these mountains, and it’s Don Blankenship who’s cutting them down.”

Senator Robert C. Byrd has been openly critical of Don Blankenship as well. “Such arrogance suggests a blatant disregard for the impact of their mining practices on our communities, residents, and particularly our children. These are children’s lives we are talking about,” said Byrd in a statement on October 7.

The WVU Sierra Student Coalition is a grassroots environmental organization striving for real improvements in our campus and community.

WVU SSC Contacts:
Joe Gorman, 703-307-4011, joe.madpj7@gmail.com
Calvin Smith, 304-433-4240, the_annoyance2002@yahoo.com

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