CHARLESTON – Amid industry layoffs and hard times for coal mining families throughout Appalachia, one group sees opportunity: the Sierra Club. 

A leader of the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign conceded in a recent interview that his group saw a golden chance to capitalize on the industry’s downturn.

In a phone interview with SNL, senior campaign director Bruce Nilles said "I think folks realize, yes, the industry is stumbling and Bloomberg has described it as a 'dead man walking,' but now is the last possible moment you'd ever want to take your foot off the gas. Folks are saying, 'Let's get it done.'"

The remarks struck some as beyond insensitive.  Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said he wishes Beyond Coal campaign donors would visit embattled regions of West Virginia like Logan and Boone counties and "look at people in the eye" before spending money to fight coal.

"I can't even imagine people spending that kind of money to put people out of work,” Raney told SNL.

IRS filings reveal that the Sierra Club is willing to spend big money to accomplish its “Beyond Coal” mission.  Filings reveal that the Sierra Club spent roughly $27 million in 2012 and 2013.  Nilles predicted that similar amounts or more would be spent in 2014 and 2015.  According to Nilles, these expenditures have helped the Sierra Club file a legal challenge, on average, every three days in recent years.

Despite the large war chest employed by the “Beyond Coal” campaign (former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg alone contributed $50 million to the effort), some Sierra Club members continue to describe their battle as one of David versus Goliath, with the Sierra Club as the underdog.

In the Illinois Basin, Sierra Club leaders opposing a coal mine recently declared that “concerned citizens with their own time and money — through bake sales, selling chocolate candy — have had to fight these battles.”

Such claims stand in sharp contrast to evidence of large sums in the coffers of the Sierra Club and other groups that oppose coal.

A recent United States Senate minority staff report revealed that the Sierra Club Foundation and Earthjustice, another prominent anti-coal organization, held over $98 million and $58 million in assets, respectively, in 2012.

Harvey is a member of Jackson Kelly's Charleston office where he is leader of the Environmental Practice Group and also Leader of the Coal Industry Group.

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