MAC: Mines and Communities

Friends of Coal Push New Message

Published by MAC on 2008-01-31

Friends of Coal Push New Message

31st January 2008

by State Journal

BELLE -- Steve Walker, president of Walker Machinery, said he was preaching to the choir at the Belle headquarters Jan. 30, but drove home the message of evolving clean coal by telling his employees, "This is not your grandfather's coal industry."

Walker hosted a membership drive for Friends of Coal, a volunteer organization with the goal of informing and educating citizens about the coal industry and its role in the future of the state and the nation. The organization began a series of membership drives in Belle with plans to host membership drives at all seven of its operations during the coming weeks.

"This is really to update our database and to raise awareness and get the public more aware of where coal is, which is a bridge to the future," Walker said. "We love clean coal, and most of these people are complete conservationists.

"The people against us (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition) don't want one ounce of coal mined, and they're really against West Virginia. They'll move on and find something else."

Walker said he's concerned about the price of energy because actions against coal could increase electricity rates, which he said would affect low-income families. He said the "environmental people" have a complete disregard for what their efforts are doing.

Vivian Stockman, outreach coordinator with OVEC, said Friends of Coal has a complete disregard for coalfield residents.

"As long as there is outlaw industry that's practiced in terms of mountaintop removal, there is no such thing as clean coal," Stockman said. "When they're talking about clean coal, they're talking about cleaning up emissions. ... They are not talking about stopping the illegal practices of mountaintop removal, so as long as there is an outlaw industry that's practiced in terms of mountaintop removal, there is no such thing as clean coal."

Roger Lilly of Walker Machinery said it's important for coal to move into the 21st century, and a lot of technology is in the pipeline to do so.

"We know we've got to do this," Lilly said. "This is our main kickoff meeting, and we're trying to re-emphasize that this is our new direction and make people understand how vital coal is."

When Mel Hancock, field organizer for Friends of Coal, got behind the microphone to address the crowd of Walker employees, he pointed to coal's numbers as indicators of its impact.

"There are about 42,742 miners in West Virginia, and each miner creates eight additional jobs somewhere else in the economy," Hancock said. "And there are 342,000 related jobs in West Virginia because of coal mining, so that's about 384,696 people who earn about a billion dollars in wages throughout the year in coal."

Hancock said 300 years' worth of coal mining remain given today's mining rates.

Walker told the crowd that coal has to be mined to provide electricity not only for West Virginia but also for the entire country.

"We have to support this," Walker said. "The perception of coal mining is probably not the best in the public because we don't get a lot of good press. Nobody really pats us on the back for what we do ... but we're facing an energy crisis here, and our public doesn't know it.

"Wind, solar, we need 'em. Alternative fuels, we need 'em."

Hancock said each person gathered needed to become a warrior for Friends of Coal.

"You don't have to be a salesman," he said. "You just have to know that coal feeds your family.

"People are willing to join if asked, so I challenge each one of you to sign up at least 10."

Hancock said while it is up to the individual employee to enroll in the group, which is free to join, he hopes the recruitment events would emphasize the critical role each Walker employee plays in supporting the economy.

"West Virginians, even if some may not know it, are coal people," Walker said in a news release. "The simple reality is that coal powers 99 percent of our homes and businesses, provides enormous benefits in terms of jobs, taxes and community support and is the foundation of West Virginia's economy.

"If we, as citizens of this state, don't start voicing our opinions, particularly in the absence of a viable alternative, we all stand to lose."


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