West VA Coal and Jobs

Jonathan Flanders jon_flanders at SPAMcompuserve.com
Tue Nov 9 11:05:34 MST 1999



Sent to my Labor email lists.
Jon F

Forwarded from Paul Plaganis

I want to second Paul's view on this matter. I am tired of being told that
we in labor have to support some of the worst corporate polluters in the
land
because JOBS might be lost.

In fact, doing things environmentally correctly is the real way to
protect JOBS. These coal companies just want to knock down mountains in a
hurry,
sell the coal and run. If they have to obey the rules, they will need MORE
people
WORKING. That's what they don't want to do.

Let's not sell our birthright at the behest of the corporate criminals!

Jon Flanders

Last Friday, CSX and all rail unions requested that employees contact
the White House and urge them to support a legislative remedy
that will allow West Virginia to continue to violate
the Clean Water Act.  Before you undertake such
action, PLEASE read the following article from last Sunday's New York
Times.  P.S.  There are always two sides to every story.

Paul
Plaganis


The New York Times, November 7, 1999

Last Stand in Defense Of a Hollow's History


BYLINE:  By FRANCIS X. CLINES


DATELINE: BLAIR, W.Va., Nov. 4


BODY:

   Jim Weekley, the last litigious man in Pigeon Roost hollow, warily
awaited word from Washington about how the politicians were trying to
get around his big court victory, which has put this state's coal mining
industry and government establishment in a state of shock.


"Now, Senator Bobby Byrd's done a whole lot for this state, but Bobby
Byrd's just like all our politicians here -- they're coal company men,"
said
Mr. Weekley, a retired miner who chain-smoked watchfully in the autumnal
glow of the hollow where his mother was born.


The hollow is a gentle valley containing 200 years of his family
history. It is set amid a series of mountaintops that the coal industry
targeted
for decapitation with mammoth mining machinery -- "mountaintop removal" is
the technical term. It is a technique of dynamiting and bulldozing that
Senator Robert C. Byrd and the rest of the state Congressional delegation
are
now furiously defending in the name of the state's economic health. They
are pressuring the Clinton administration and fighting to undo the
stunning court victory over this high-tech strip-mining practice recently
won by
Mr. Weekley and a group of other homesteaders and environmentalists.


Unlike tens of thousands of others in hollows across Appalachia, Jim
Weekley decided to rebuff the mining company's offers and cling to his
seven-tenths-of-an-acre homestead as he saw this backwoods hamlet about
40 miles from Charleston shrink to 60 families from 200 when the
mountaintops and hollows were bought for removal. In the face of gargantuan
removal
machinery that juts 20 stories above the horizon, Mr. Weekley became
theholdout among his now departed hollow neighbors. He joined a public
interest lawsuit to block the common mining practice of dumping the vast
tons
of dynamited waste from the obliterated mountaintops down into valleys
just like his beloved Pigeon Roost hollow, where streams and woodland
vistas
are choked off and buried.


"I ran free in this hollow all my life," said Mr. Weekley, citing
values different from the rich low-sulfur coal lying all about him up in
the
mountaintops. "The memories and the footsteps and the happiness we have
had in the hollow. The six children we raised, the love tree where I
courted my wife. This fight is not about money. It's about being for the
future."


Chief Judge Charles H. Haden 2nd of United States District Court, a
veteran Charleston jurist with a reputation for being conservative
Republican
in his outlook, shocked the state last month when he ruled for Mr. Weekley,
the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and a half-dozen other landholders.
He found that the state had violated federal mining and clean water laws
for years by permitting the blockage of hundreds of miles of vital valley
streams with the mountaintop rubble.


"That judge came down my hollow to see what it was all about," Mr.
Weekley proudly recalled even as he awaited word from Washington on the
efforts
to undo the ruling, which environmental lobbying groups have hailed as a
landmark defense of antipollution law. As Mr. Weekley spoke, that lobby
was in a tooth-and-claw struggle against the storied powers of Senator
Byrd, the dean of Senate constitutionalists and leader of the state
Congressional delegation.


The senator, who loves to revel in such home state glories as mountain
fiddling, is alarmed that the state's mining economy and jobs are
under threat from the court ruling. He is planning to block the decision by
attaching a legislative rider to some final bill in the Congressional
rush to end the session. "We have taken some reasoned steps toward ensuring
the viability of the coal mining industry in our state," the delegation
declared in an opinion essay prepared for Sunday newspapers.


But Joe Lovett, the lawyer who won the court decision in behalf of
Mountain State Justice Inc., said that he had seen the rider and that it
would
plainly gut the court decision by eliminating the current laws' valley
fill standards and buffer zone requirements for protecting streams --
strictures that Judge Haden found had clearly been ignored. The state
delegation,
which has declined to release details of its rider to the public, is
insisting a way can be found to repair the problem while protecting both
jobs and
the environment.


"The White House is hedging," said Mr. Lovett, noting that under
pressure from Senator Byrd, the administration has declined to repeat in
this
case its earlier unqualified warnings that the president will veto any late
session bills that include anti-environmental riders. "My guess after
eight years of watching this president is that he's not going to veto it,"
Mr.Lovett said pessimistically. He is concerned as well that any
last-minute effort to compromise may also mean a weakened environmental
law.


Environmental groups are watching Vice President Al Gore in particular
because he is running for president on his pro-environment credentials.
He has contended that the urgency of the issue was eased by Judge Haden's
subsequent decision to stay the ruling pending an appeal. But
environmental lobbyists, noting that the delegation is pursuing a rider to
trump the
appeals process, are dissatisfied that Mr. Gore has not explicitly
guaranteed a presidential veto if the Byrd rider is passed.


"Gore's resolve does not seem so great," said Courtney Cuff,
Washington legislative director for Friends of the Earth. "We fear they're
going
to talk the talk, but not walk the walk."


Here in the state, the coal industry, the miners union and virtually
all government officials have attacked the court ruling as economically
ruinous.

Gov. Cecil H. Underwood, a Republican, ordered a hiring freeze and a
10 percent budget cut, steps that environmentalists say was part of a
pro-industry panic scenario to help passage of the Byrd rider.


Ken Hechler, a Democrat who is West Virginia's secretary of state,
accuses the White House of trying to finesse politics over principle in
this
struggle. Long a crusader against mountaintop removal, Mr. Hechler
asserted that both Mr. Clinton and Mr. Gore had been "oblivious to the
utter
devastation" left by this rapid form of strip mining. Precious
mountains in four coal-rich states of Appalachia are being reduced to
"moonscapes"
by a technique increasingly on the rise, Mr. Hechler warns. The industry
points to showcase reclamation projects, but Mr. Hechler, grieving for lost
nature, dismisses them as "lipstick on a corpse."


As he patrols Pigeon Roost hollow, Jim Weekley is pleased that by
defending his family roots and memories on seven-tenths of an acre he has
managed
so far to block a huge plan for a mountaintop mining swath of 3,100 acres,
a project that needed his hollow to go forward. He is not against mining,
he emphasizes, speaking as a veteran of the old deep-shaft mines where,
he says, the work could be lethal but at least a man knew that his labors
below were not literally erasing his place in the hollow.


Mr. Weekley is angry that the politicians so concerned now about the
environmental laws never really told their constituents about their
provisions in the first place.


"Why didn't they tell the little guy?" he asked, studying the horizon
and Washington beyond. "The companies sure knew, but what about the little
guy in the hollows?"



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