Not surprisingly, the coal industry got a favorable mention yesterday when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin took the oath of office and delivered his inaugural address:
I will fight for our state’s coal industry, the backbone of our economy. We will continue to take on the federal government and oppose efforts by the EPA and others to stop production of the most efficient fuel our country knows.
Gov. Tomblin did not — as he has in the past – include any promise to take action on the mine safety reforms proposed by Davitt McAteer and others following the Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster. Of course, also not mentioned by the new governor were the growing body of studies about the serious public health impacts of mountaintop removal, coal’s huge contributions to climate change (not to mention other serious air pollution problems) and the coming decline in Central Appalachian coal production.
Not so long ago, Gov. Tomblin was promising an open door policy — “frank and honest discussions” — once he took office. Perhaps the governor could start by taking a lengthy meeting with someone like Michael Hendryx, who could tell him about the West Virginia University coal mining health studies, of pulling together some climate-change experts to talk about coal’s contributions to the greenhouse gas buildup in the atmosphere.
The new governor drew some protests at Sunday’s event. As The Associated Press reported:
About two dozen demonstrators protested the ceremony from a lawn alongside the plaza. Most held signs targeting the mountaintop removal method of surface mining. They turned their backs when Tomblin took the oath and then began chanting, but they were largely drowned out during the cannon salute that followed.
Several protesters also heckled Tomblin during his 15-minute address, particularly when he vowed to defend the state’s energy industries and to “fight for our state’s coal industry, the backbone of our economy.” This continued when Tomblin decried “efforts by the EPA and others to stop production of the most efficient fuel our country knows.”