Speakers say bill would save streams, kill jobs

The debate over mountaintop removal is heating up in Richmond.

A Senate committee heard passionate pleas last week about a bill that supporters said would save the environment but opponents said would cost coal industry jobs.

Senate Bill 564 would prohibit coal surface mining operations that dispose of slurry or other waste materials in any stream. Sen. Patricia Ticer, D-Alexandria, said her bill would curb “mountaintop removal” mining operations and reduce water pollution.

Environmentalists support SB 564, which Ticer calls the “stream saver bill.” But coal miners and industry officials came out in force against the measure for Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

The state coal industry say the bill is a job killer.

“Do not be confused: This bill has nothing to do with saving streams. It was intended to put the coal industry out of business,” said Thomas Hudson of the Virginia Coal Association.

Many of the bill’s opponents wore black T-shirts with “Just Say No to 564” on the front and “Yes Coal, Yes Jobs” on the back. So many people attended the hearing that most had to listen to the proceedings from another room.

Delegate James “Will” Morefield, R-North Tazewell, spoke at the hearing in defense of the coal industry. He said he recognized the importance of protecting the environment but added that the economy and jobs are critical, too.

“We’ve got to realize that this is a jobs bill,” Morefield said. “And this has the potential to kill jobs in Southwest Virginia.”

Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, was even more urgent.

“This would bring economic devastation – absolute and total devastation – to this corner of the commonwealth,” Wampler said.

However, other speakers warned of the environmental consequences not passing the bill would cause.

“We’re not advocating the eradication of coal or coal jobs. We’re saying, ‘Stop poisoning our water and destroying our communities and homes,’ ” said Larry Bush, a Wise County resident.

Bush said he lives in a community that gets blasted daily from coal surface mining operations. There is no life in the stream near his house anymore, and it is full of silt, he said.

Kathy Selvage, a Wise County resident and environmental activist, described herself as the daughter of a coal miner. But she said she opposes mountaintop removal mining because of what it does to the environment.

“The last chapter in the book of mountaintop removal is how the transformation of one of the richest ecosystems in our lands – a national treasure, and this commonwealth’s as well – has been hopelessly destroyed and can never return to us,” Selvage said.

The bill’s opponents said it would destroy the lifeblood of the coalfield economy.

“Coal mining is the economic engine of our county and adjoining counties in Southwest Virginia,” said J.H. Rivers, chairman of the Wise County Board of Supervisors. The board recently passed a resolution opposing SB 564.

Rivers’ sentiments were echoed by Wise County Supervisor Robert Adkins, whose father and grandfather were coal miners.

“Coal has been a godsend. It’s been a blessing to Wise County,” Adkins said.

Gary Prater, a member of the Grundy Town Council, agreed.

“Senate Bill 564 will kill jobs for Buchanan County, surface or underground or otherwise. We cannot have this bill,” Prater said.

Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices, an environmental group, gave the opening presentation at the hearing. He said job losses from the bill could be offset by new jobs associated with reclamation projects – projects to rehabilitate mined lands.

Wasson also cited a study by the Appalachia Regional Commission that said energy efficiency initiatives could create 77,000 jobs in Appalachia.

“We are not restricted in Southwest Virginia to only coal mining. There are many opportunities, but it’s going to take leadership,” Wasson said.

After the hearing was opened to public comment, about 15 people from each side of the issue addressed the committee. They were supposed to limit their comments to three minutes, but many ran over their allotted time.

SB 564 is awaiting a vote by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, which Ticer chairs.

This story was contributed by the Capital News Service.

The debate over mountaintop removal is heating up in Richmond.

A Senate committee heard passionate pleas last week about a bill that supporters said would save the environment but opponents said would cost coal industry jobs.

Senate Bill 564 would prohibit coal surface mining operations that dispose of slurry or other waste materials in any stream. Sen. Patricia Ticer, D-Alexandria, said her bill would curb “mountaintop removal” mining operations and reduce water pollution.

Environmentalists support SB 564, which Ticer calls the “stream saver bill.” But coal miners and industry officials came out in force against the measure for Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.

The state coal industry say the bill is a job killer.

“Do not be confused: This bill has nothing to do with saving streams. It was intended to put the coal industry out of business,” said Thomas Hudson of the Virginia Coal Association.

Many of the bill’s opponents wore black T-shirts with “Just Say No to 564” on the front and “Yes Coal, Yes Jobs” on the back. So many people attended the hearing that most had to listen to the proceedings from another room.

Delegate James “Will” Morefield, R-North Tazewell, spoke at the hearing in defense of the coal industry. He said he recognized the importance of protecting the environment but added that the economy and jobs are critical, too.

“We’ve got to realize that this is a jobs bill,” Morefield said. “And this has the potential to kill jobs in Southwest Virginia.”

Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, was even more urgent.

“This would bring economic devastation – absolute and total devastation – to this corner of the commonwealth,” Wampler said.

However, other speakers warned of the environmental consequences not passing the bill would cause.

“We’re not advocating the eradication of coal or coal jobs. We’re saying, ‘Stop poisoning our water and destroying our communities and homes,’ ” said Larry Bush, a Wise County resident.

Bush said he lives in a community that gets blasted daily from coal surface mining operations. There is no life in the stream near his house anymore, and it is full of silt, he said.

Kathy Selvage, a Wise County resident and environmental activist, described herself as the daughter of a coal miner. But she said she opposes mountaintop removal mining because of what it does to the environment.

“The last chapter in the book of mountaintop removal is how the transformation of one of the richest ecosystems in our lands – a national treasure, and this commonwealth’s as well – has been hopelessly destroyed and can never return to us,” Selvage said.

The bill’s opponents said it would destroy the lifeblood of the coalfield economy.

“Coal mining is the economic engine of our county and adjoining counties in Southwest Virginia,” said J.H. Rivers, chairman of the Wise County Board of Supervisors. The board recently passed a resolution opposing SB 564.

Rivers’ sentiments were echoed by Wise County Supervisor Robert Adkins, whose father and grandfather were coal miners.

“Coal has been a godsend. It’s been a blessing to Wise County,” Adkins said.

Gary Prater, a member of the Grundy Town Council, agreed.

“Senate Bill 564 will kill jobs for Buchanan County, surface or underground or otherwise. We cannot have this bill,” Prater said.

Matt Wasson of Appalachian Voices, an environmental group, gave the opening presentation at the hearing. He said job losses from the bill could be offset by new jobs associated with reclamation projects – projects to rehabilitate mined lands.

Wasson also cited a study by the Appalachia Regional Commission that said energy efficiency initiatives could create 77,000 jobs in Appalachia.

“We are not restricted in Southwest Virginia to only coal mining. There are many opportunities, but it’s going to take leadership,” Wasson said.

After the hearing was opened to public comment, about 15 people from each side of the issue addressed the committee. They were supposed to limit their comments to three minutes, but many ran over their allotted time.

SB 564 is awaiting a vote by the Senate Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources Committee, which Ticer chairs.

This story was contributed by the Capital News Service.

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robsmithiii
robsmithiii
12 years ago

The opposition to the bill did not mention several items during the hearing. First, mountaintop removal was initially designed to kill jobs. The process is less worker-intensive than traditional, underground methods of mining. In fact, in West Virginia, which has had more mountaintop removal project sites over the years, employment in the mining industry [i.e. the number of miners] has decreased from over 150,000 jobs to just 16,000 jobs. The coal industry is not trying to guarantee these jobs, even though they attempt to paint a picture that that is their number one concern. They didn’t have any actual miners… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

It may kill mountain top coal removal jobs, but it could help spur other energy related jobs.

Look, I really feel for a guy that might lose his jobs, but mountain top removal is extremely destructive. If you want to go see it first had, go white water rafting on the Cheat Canyon in WV.

james
james
12 years ago

Coal miners may not win in Patsy Ticer’s committee, but the bill has to go through the House too, and Republicans value jobs a lot more than Democrats. If the Senate passes it, the House will kill it dead.

Brett
Brett
12 years ago

Visit http://ilovemountains.org/ for some disturbing footage. There are towns where children’s teeth are rotting out due to the pollution of the water. Entire neighborhoods of homes are worthless because there is no clean water available due to the runoff. They have to have water delivered. It’s total madness.

chris
chris
12 years ago

i work on a surface mine and i think this will end up being a war right here in the united states. the first thing we should do is pull the power from the tree hugging people who want to stop mountain top removal and let them set in the dark for a month or two and let them get a little taste of what they will be getting when they shut us down……

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Chris,

Something needs to be done. The coal companies need to be held responsible for destroying the land.

We all need power and it is a messy business no doubt, but mountain top removal is the worst.

Jerry
Jerry
12 years ago

I am a 57 year old surface miner and have been for over 25 years now. My father-in law died at the age of 56, he had 32 years in underground coal mining. I just want everyone to know that i support coal mining and surface mining. What are you people thinking ? If you stopped the coal industry, how do you expect people in southwest Virginia and other areas to survive. I would be willing to bet there’s some of you that don’t even know what a piece of coal even looks like. This Ticer woman needs to retire… Read more »

Matt
Matt
12 years ago

Jerry,

Correct me if I am wrong, but are there not other methods of mining that are less destructive to the environment? Do these methods sometimes create more jobs?

Also, are there other ways to create power that are less destructive to the miners, community and environment?

I have no fantasies of coal burning going away anytime soon, but we seriously need to come up with cleaner ways to produce electricity.

Do not worry, producing power will continue to create jobs for the rest of time

Alex
Alex
12 years ago

Although a great deal of concern on environmental protection must be assessed when associated with mountaintop removal as a mining method for coal mining, regulators need to focus on stricter enforcement and punishment for violations of current environmental law instead of enacted stricter law which would devastate the coal mining industry and the economy in Southwest Virginia.

So many people argue to the extremes of both sides of this issue, which is why no change is happening for either side. Middle ground must be reached in order to reach reasonable goals for BOTH sides of this issue.