MAC: Mines and Communities

US Coal lobby shows another ugly face

Published by MAC on 2009-09-01

It’s a dirty business – and defending it has involved playing some dirty tricks.

Earlier this year, we published a critique of “public relations” ploy by the  American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity” -  an industry lobby group. (See:

Now, this group is being investigated after mailing forged letters, purporting to come from three leading US citizens’ advocacy groups, which trashed pending climate change legislation.

But if you can’t win with one face, why not display another?

- Just so long as your true motives are masked by yet another anodyne acronym.

Another pro-coal group enters the energy debate

by Michelle Saxton, Daily Mail Capitol Reporter

20 August 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Another pro-coal alliance has joined the growing array of groups fighting for an industry that has become a focal point for the nation's energy debate.

Grassroots efforts supporting coal seem to be growing in West Virginia, most recently with Wednesday's campaign kickoff of an alliance promoting the benefits mining brings to local economies.

"West Virginia is ground zero for the war on coal," said Bryan Brown, a coordinator with the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, or FACES of Coal.

"Forces from outside our state and region seek to eliminate or severely diminish the use of coal as an energy source, without, apparently, any appreciation for the benefits that mining provides to our state and nation."

FACES of Coal is among several pro-coal groups working to gather support for the industry as environmental groups have staged protests in West Virginia against mining; cap and trade legislation has been pending in Congress and surface mine permits have been on hold while the federal Environmental Protection Agency evaluates their impact.

Other pro-coal groups include Friends of America, a Massey Energy-supported coalition of businesses in West Virginia that plans to hold a rally on Labor Day. There also is Friends of Coal, organized by the West Virginia Coal Association.

On the environmental side, groups include the coalition Friends of the Mountains, which has been fighting mountaintop removal mining. Organizations listed on the coalition's Web site include the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Coal River Mountain Watch and West Virginia Highlands Conservancy. There also is the Sierra Club of West Virginia, which recently co-hosted an event showcasing the film "Coal Country" and has intervened in cases regarding mountaintop removal mining.

In voicing its pro-mining message, FACES of Coal has more than 70 different coal and non-coal-related organizations, businesses and individuals, such as representatives of tourism, state government and county government, Brown said.

The coalition planned to expand its grassroots efforts from West Virginia to Virginia, Kentucky, other areas of Appalachia and throughout the country, he said.

Brown added that the coalition is not a political or lobbying group, but it does encourage members to voice their opinions on coal-related issues and benefits.

"We're not directing individuals to oppose any single piece of legislation at this point," Brown said. "There are a number of efforts under way that are causing unpredictability, instability in the coal industry, and that in turn affects all of us."

West Virginia has had a recent trend of community efforts regarding coal-related issues, partly in response to a national focus on mountaintop removal mining, said Chuck Smith, a political science professor at West Virginia State University.

"There obviously has been an increase in grassroots community-type action and demonstrations in this area," Smith said. "The pro-coal increase, it's the most recent development, is obviously in response to their concern that the people who are moving to have mountaintop removal ended are being increasingly successful in bringing public attention to that issue."

Increased media attention has been given to protests over mining, said Jim Kotcon, chair of the energy committee for the West Virginia chapter of the Sierra Club.

"The impacts from mining and mountaintop removal have been going on for many years, but the news media are now starting to pay attention, in large part because it is becoming a national and even international issue," Kotcon said.

Kotcon said there has been a significant decline in interest in coal-fired power plants over the last three or four years due largely to greater awareness of the costs of coal, including the need to reduce greenhouse gases and the basic construction and operating costs.

Employees of coal companies have an obvious economic interest in mining issues, Smith said, and the state has a history of getting involved in community awareness, such as with labor unions addressing work place and salary issues.

"West Virginia is a place where grassroots response isn't too uncommon," Smith said.

Support for coal also comes from outside coal companies.

The County Commissioners Association of West Virginia joined FACES of Coal to raise awareness of the revenue impact to counties from coal severance taxes, said Vivian Parsons, the association's executive director.

"The economy is tough right now," Parsons said.

"Counties are having a hard time balancing their budgets," Parsons said. "We have to look at all of our revenue sources. We need to help promote awareness and understanding of just how valuable those dollars are and what we're doing with them."

Coal severance taxes are distributed to counties in two ways, with 75 percent going to coal-producing counties and 25 percent going to all counties and cities based on population and regardless of coal production, Parsons said.

In the 2009 fiscal year, West Virginia counties received about $31 million in coal severance taxes, and another $3 million was distributed to cities, Parsons said.

Parsons spoke with commissioners in both coal-producing and non-coal-producing counties about how much coal severance money they got last year and where the money typically goes. Here are some examples she gave:

# Berkeley County, about $300,000 - Some funding used for the county's Development Authority, to fund a clean air task force and to get grant match money for court security, records management and community corrections.

# Boone County, about $4.5 million - Funds community cleanups, senior centers and water and sewer projects and allows county residents to take their trash to a garbage transfer site without having to pay a fee to dump it.

# Brooke County, nearly $70,000 - Parsons had no specific information on how this money was spent, but said that in addition to the coal severance money the local coal industry donated a building to the county commission for an animal shelter, emergency operations center and additional storage for law enforcement vehicles.

# Hancock County, about $58,000 - Some funding used to plug budget holes and pay a postage bill in county government.

# Kanawha County, more than $1.3 million - Helps fund cleanup programs, Ambulance Authority services, the Humane Society, Little League teams and volunteer fire departments, among other services.

# Lewis County, more than $60,000 - Funding supplements the E-911 call center emergency response system.

# Mercer County, more than $214,000 - Funds supplement the county's regional jail bill and pays for property and liability insurance at county offices.

# Wirt County, $24,000 - Funding helps with regional jail bills and to supplement other general county expenses.

"If the coal severance dollars would dry up and go away, so would some of the vital services that the counties are providing," Parsons said.

But studies have shown coal mining may have a human cost as well, Kotcon said, referring to a 2009 report by researchers at West Virginia University and Washington State University who say that the human health cost of mining appeared to be five times greater than the economic benefits.

"Those health studies do not include the economic impact of damage to our roads, damage to streams and rivers, or the general decline in property values associated with mountaintop removal mines," Kotcon said.

The study "Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost" found that socioeconomic indicators and age-adjusted mortality rates were worse in coal-mining areas of Appalachia than in non-mining areas.

However, researchers also said that while a causal link is likely, "it cannot be stated with certainty that coal mining causes these problems," as economic and public health outcomes for those areas in the absence of mining could not be determined.

Meanwhile, Parsons said her group is involved with FACES of Coal because of the coalition's stated goals to preserve the environment through good stewardship of natural resources and to strengthen communities by advancing safe and responsible mining technology.

"My focus and my involvement in this coalition is from the county perspective," Parsons said. "The political issues that are bouncing back and forth and the good and the bad we will leave to our constituents to debate."

For more information on Faces of Coal, visit

Coal industry launches another PR campaign

By Ken Ward Jr., Staff writer, West Virginia Gazette

19 August 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As its lobbying efforts in Washington face a congressional probe over faked letters to lawmakers, the coal industry is launching another public relations effort to combat calls for a ban on mountaintop removal and limits on greenhouse gas emissions.

Industry officials, business leaders and local government representatives gathered in Charleston Wednesday afternoon to announce their new "FACES of Coal" effort.

"Many outsiders are putting pressure here in West Virginia and nationally," said Bryan Brown, a West Virginia Coal Association publicist who also organized Wednesday's press conference. "We feel they don't understand and appreciate America's reliance on coal and the economic impact coal has on our communities, our state and our nation."

Brown said the new group, the Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security, would focus on "voices that are not typically associated with coal mining."

Among those who spoke at the press conference were state Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, a lobbyist for the County Commissioners Association of West Virginia, and the owner of an Upshur County retail flooring business.

"I'm thoroughly convinced that coal has a great future," Prezioso said. "I just can't see any other way around that."

Brown and other speakers focused on the spin-off jobs created by coal operations and by the distribution of coal severance taxes in West Virginia to counties statewide, including those where no coal is produced.

To illustrate the impact of those tax dollars, several uniformed representatives of the Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority attended, after parking an ambulance outside that was painted to advertise the fact that it was purchased with coal-tax money.

Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper, a member of the ambulance authority board, said he did not know that the agency was sending representatives to take sides on controversial issues about the coal industry's future.

"Sometimes you get invited to these things and what you were told it was going to be isn't what it turns out to be," said Carper, who was not invited to the event. "From what you're telling me, I would have told them not to go."

Brown said FACES will start with a budget "upwards of $1 million" that comes from coal companies, coal industry vendors and other businesses and individuals. He said a breakdown of financing was not available. Brown said the group was formed by other coal industry groups who felt a need to publicize the support coal has from other businesses, organizations and individuals in the region.

In a prepared statement, the FACES group said it hopes to build on the "effective work" of organizations such as Friends of Coal and the Mountaintop Mining Coalition. The group's promotional materials focused on mountaintop removal, calling beefed-up permit reviews instituted by the Obama administration "a regulatory black hole" -- language previously used by the National Mining Association -- and alleging the only water quality damage from this mining is elimination of mayflies from certain streams.

Brown said he was not that familiar with the controversy generated by another coal lobby group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, or ACCCE, when its public relations firm sent more than a dozen faked letters opposing climate change legislation to members of Congress. The letters purported to be from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, senior citizen groups and a Hispanic advocacy organization.

Brown said he did not know if publicity about such tactics would make it harder for other coal groups like his to sway public opinion behind the industry.

"I can only speak for myself," Brown said. "And as an individual, I wouldn't be involved in a situation where we are stretching the truth or lying to get a job done."

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