By STEVE ROBERTS and KENNY PERDUE
CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s economy is under attack. This attack is being focused on the state’s coal industry, which supports nearly one-fourth of West Virginia’s economy, pays nearly $1 billion in annual direct wages and provides hundreds of millions in dollars in state and local taxes.
Including taxes paid by the state’s electric generation and transmission industries, then coal provides close to 60 percent of all business taxes paid in the state.
West Virginia’s coal industry and its miners are facing a growing barrage of lawsuits and legal maneuvers from activist environmental groups and advocates who seem to have a singular mission of destroying coal mining in our state. Even more insidious, these attacks and legal battles are being waged almost exclusively here in and against West Virginia.
The latest attack on West Virginia coal is a series of targeted attacks on the federal permits needed for coal mining – both underground and above ground. The specific attack this time is against Apogee Coal Co., which operates a union mine in Logan County and employs 250 miners.
This overall objective is quite evident – you only have to visit the Web sites of these organizations, particularly the site for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. On OVEC’s Web site (www.ohvec.org) a person only has to go to the main page to read: “Mountaintop Removal – Help End It!”
Elsewhere on OVEC’s Web site is the following: “OVEC wants to help reporters get the facts on the environmental issues we address. Our primary issues include: Mountaintop removal/valley fill strip mining, coal waste impoundments, energy policy, coal-fired power plant pollution, and a host of other coal-related issues.”
West Virginians – taxpayers – must recognize that this campaign is not about improving the environment, but instead involves a calculated attempt to destroy a foundational industry that provides employment to hundreds of thousands of people in our state.
While coal mining directly employs close to 45,000 people in West Virginia, coal indirectly helps support employment and business for many, many others in nearly every community in our state. From the southern counties to the central region to the Northern Panhandle, coal is a vital part of the economic vitality and infrastructure of our state.
Without the wages and benefits provided by the state’s coal industry, many, many West Virginians would be out of work and out of luck. The resulting hardship and pain would be felt by everyone in our state.
Coal mining and related jobs also provide hundreds of millions in state and local tax dollars. These dollars provide for our local schools, for our State Police protection, for our health-care services and for other essential services without which we could not survive.
Clearly the actions by groups such as OVEC are nothing more than an all-out assault on the economic and fiscal well-being of our state. They are also an assault on our nation and its energy security. West Virginia is blessed with abundant reserves of coal, which provide 99 percent of West Virginia’s electricity. Nationally, coal provides the fuel for half of all electricity produced. Coal is a reliable, abundant and affordable domestic energy source that helps our country compete in the global economy.
While these environmental groups want to disrupt and devastate our coal industry, they seem to have little regard for the terrible hardship they will bring not only to thousands of families, but also to communities and essential government services all across our state.
West Virginia is an energy state, and one that we are proud to be a part of because now more than ever, this nation needs reliable, dependable sources of domestic energy. The nation’s coal industry is responding to our changing world and is focused on the use of clean coal technologies and advances in mining operations and techniques.
The industry also is investing in new safety programs and procedures.
What the coal industry – and our state – does not need are more attacks and legal actions by groups bent on its destruction. West Virginians from all walks of life should be outraged by this and should speak up to put an end to these misguided campaigns. We must preserve West Virginia’s coal industry and its communities.
Roberts is president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Perdue is president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.