MAC: Mines and Communities

Gee up - and get out! Environmentalists demand university president resigns from Massey Coal

Published by MAC on 2009-05-18

E. Gordon Gee is the highest-paid university president in the US, last year earning more around $1.3 million from Ohio State University.

This is on top of the $219,000 in cash and stock he got from notorious "mountain top destroyer" Massey Energy.
Four national environmental organisations have now joined others in calling for Gee to resign as a director of Massey when the coal company's shareholders meet this week.

Environmentalists urge Gee to step down from Massey Energy board

Associated Press

15th May 2009

COLUMBUS - Environmentalists are pressing Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee to step down from the board of a coal mining company ahead of its shareholder meeting Tuesday.

Gee, 65, has sat on the board of Richmond, Va.-based Massey Energy Co. since 2000 and chairs its safety, environmental and public policy committee.

Four national environmental groups - the Sierra Club, Greenpeace USA, Earthjustice and Friends of the Earth - are the most recent to join the chorus opposing Gee's service. They say Massey participates in a destructive practice of blasting away mountaintop ridgelines to expose multiple coal seams, which runs counter to Gee's public efforts to promote green energy.

"Your association with Massey Energy undermines your own standing as an advocate for clean energy sources and confers undeserved credibility on Massey's terrible environmental record," the groups said in a letter to Gee dated May 7.

Gee has said he believes he can do more environmental good on the board than off it.

"It would be very easy for me to get off the company [board], because I really don't need to do that," Gee said in a videotaped interview with The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper.

"But the other side of it, the reason I continue to serve, is the fact that I believe very strongly in environmental issues and it's better to be inside of the tent making a difference than it is [to be] outside complaining."

Gee has not responded to repeated requests to discuss the issue with The Associated Press.

Company filings show that Gee, the nation's highest paid university president, made more than $219,000 in cash and stock from Massey last year. He earned about $1.3 million from OSU last year, including salary, benefits and bonuses.

In all, he held 28,191 shares of Massey stock as of March 20, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. At Wednesday's closing price, that Massey portfolio was worth about $531,000 - but its value has swung wildly in the past year. In June, that number of shares was worth more than $2.1 million; in March, just $271,000.

The liberal policy group ProgressOhio, among about a dozen Ohio-based groups pushing for Gee to step down, has suggested the potential loss of millions of dollars in stock is preventing Gee from leaving the board.

The watchdog group Ohio Citizen Action, which began the campaign against Gee's Massey service, says it has delivered thousands of citizen letters and children's drawings to the president. Activists also say he has received about 700 signatures collected through online petitions.

Gee is up for re-election Tuesday at Massey's annual shareholders meeting in Richmond.

In his Lantern interview, Gee defended Massey's positive environmental record and claimed some personal credit for it.

"They are living very clearly within the policy and environmental guidelines," he said. "And anyone who points out differently has not looked at the environmental evidence."

In their letter to Gee, the national environmental groups called Massey's environmental track record "abysmal."

"During your tenure on Massey's board, the company committed Clean Water Act violations that led to a record $20 million civil penalty - the largest that the EPA has ever levied against a company for wastewater violations," they wrote. "According to the government's complaint, the company violated its Clean Water Act permits more than 4,500 times between January 2000 and December 2006."

Information provided by the EPA confirms the groups' figures.

Gee joined the Massey board in November 2000.

Gee told Lantern reporters that Massey and other coal companies are caught between environmental and safety concerns and consumers' demands for energy. Coal, he said, represents 60 percent of the nation's energy.

"It's the only self-sustaining energy source that we have right now," he said. "So we need to get it right, or else we can shut off the lights - one of the two things. So as an energy and environmental issue, it's one of the most difficult ones that we face about how we manage it."

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