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Coal Company Boycotting State Deemed Unfriendly to Mountaintop Removal

Rob Perks

Posted July 7, 2009

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About 10 years ago St. Louis-based Arch Coal, the nation's second-largest coal mining company, launched an ill-fated PR campaign with full-color newspaper ads touting mountaintop removal as "the right thing to do."  It now looks like the company is trading soft persuasion for hardball tactics with its newest campaign: boycotting states deemed hostile to the industry.

Specifically, an Arch Coal subsidiary called Coal-Mac is urging its employees to cancel vacations to Tennessee in apparent retaliation for testimony by a top state official at a recent U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on mountaintop removal in Washington, D.C.  At the hearing Paul Sloan, Deputy Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation (TDEC), endorsed bi-partisan federal legislation that would effectively ban mountaintop removal.  The bill, the Appalachian Restoration Act, is co-sponsored by Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN).

In a letter to local Chambers of Commerce, the company warns: "[I]f you want our industry's business, we suggest you let your representatives know that the industry they are trying to destroy is a major source of your tourism money." 

The letter also notes that two other out-of-state Arch subsidiarues have cancelled their annual company picnics to Dollywood this year.  Apparently, a pro-MTR group called Citizens for Coal is joining in by asking all of its members to also boycott Tennessee travel.

"We're trying to say to our employees and to other coal miners, that let's hit them in the wallet with their tourism," explained Coal-Mac official Richie Phillips.  "Tourism is how they make a living and coal mining is how we make a living."

That twisted rationale is beyond ironic -- equating tourism with mountaintop removal is moronic

Last time I checked, people travel to Tennessee to enjoy the scenic vistas of the Smoky Mountains, not the smoky ruins of a flat landscape that used to be a mountain.  Far better to boycott coal companies that conduct mountaintop removal.



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Dana KuhnlineJul 16 2009 03:27 PM

It is ironic that Coal-Mac official Richie Phillips claims that West Virginia needs level land to have a strong economy -- when the very economy in Tennessee they are trying to impact with their boycott depends on pristine, very mountainous terrain.

In the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, they have built their prosperity by protecting their mountains. In West Virginia, we already have hundreds of thousands of acres of undeveloped strip mining -- and still are not doing well economically. The counties that mine the most coal are the poorest in West Virginia. Maybe our Senators could learn something from Tennessee's.

I have to agree though, that these West Virginia companies should not host their annual picnics in Tennessee. Let them host them in the still-beautiful parts West Virginia and Kentucky, or, if they like them so much, at a strip mine. We need their tourist dollars here, to begin diversifying our economy.

Joanne CaronJul 16 2009 07:06 PM

What really is ironic is most of the coal miners enjoy living a rural life full of hunting and 4 wheeling. But it's ok to remove mountain?? Everyone brags how much they love living in the mountains. And it is beautiful and we should value it. When theres no more mountains then we'll be whining about it.

Sherry SmithJul 17 2009 07:30 AM

Without this coal minning our ecomony would be nothing, we need this, and the land that is being used later is making wonderful places for shopping, housing and etc.
I have never directly earned money from coal, but indirectly we would not have a business if it wasn't for the coal.
They are restoring these mountains after they are done with them, and then they develop the land into wonderful use.
We own a house in Tenn and I don't even want to go use it because of this, because of the stand they have taken on this in Tn the state of Ky espically south eastern.
What I don't understand is don't the people in Tenn realize about 65% of their businness is from south east Ky and where we live there bout 90% of the people are Ky transplants
They need to stand back and take another look.

Rob PerksJul 17 2009 10:04 AM

Sherry, I understand your concern. That's the problem with a mono-industry like coal --the repeated boom-and-bust cycle heightens economic instability for the region. Where I grew up in the South we experienced something similar with the tobacco industry, when so many of my family members lost good-paying jobs due to periodic layoffs during over recent decades. But eventually coal will be no more -- no matter what -- in Appalachia, so the region needs to begin transitioning to a more diversified economic base (the sooner, the better). The fact that its political leaders refuse to accept that is not just disappointing but irresponsible. I'd also point out something you probaby already know, that less than 2% of mining sites have been reclaimed for economic benefit. That may explain in part why folks from the coalfields vacation in nearby states that value their scenic beauty as a lasting economic asset.

Mary SmithJul 17 2009 11:07 AM

It's damned if you damned if you don't situation.
I agree with Rob, very few of the mining sites have been reclaimed for economic benefits.
The issue is Mountain Top Removal. The reason they do this is it's cheaper for the coal companies.
How can you restore a mountain after you've removed it?
And most of the coal we use comes from the midwest not EKY.

Sherry SmithJul 17 2009 12:12 PM

At one time Tob and Mary they did not reclaim this.
But at the present time they are reclaiming these places and making very productive land for us to build places to work when coal is gone.
And as for the coal being gone, that is not in our near future, we have a very abundance of coal here in these mountains of Ky and Va. and West Va.
We are use to this way of life and it is not a hard way like it use to, a average larbor at our coal companies makes about 15.00 dollars a hour, where else could he make that here in these mountains? he also has money to go to Wal Mart to shop alone with going to Mcdonals and all the other fast food resturants, where do you think this money comes from.
I order for us to survive here we need to have this coal and mountain and they are making us productive land here, our mounains are beautiful in some place, but in some place they only make for hard living for people.

Mary SmithJul 17 2009 12:29 PM

The coal won't be gone but what we use for our energy will change and coal will not be included.
I live in the mountains of EKY and you drive down the the highway and see what damage the coal companies have done. For what? A Target or some other retail store?
We need to plan now for a future that doesn't include the coal companies. Coal will be gone and if you don't start planning now you'll be hurting later.

Rob PerksJul 17 2009 03:09 PM

Let's face it, post-mining reclamation is a sad joke. Aside from the occasional prison or golf course, no real substantial beneficial development has taken hold on moonscapes that were formerly thriving mountain ridges. And the argument for blasting mountains and replacing them with shopping malls is a ridiculous fallacy.

Now, as to coal supply, people need to realize that industry propaganda about "abundant" coal reserves ("We're the Saudia Arabia of coal!") is a myth. Check out the latest research on how much coal really is left (hint: not as much as you might think):

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