COAL POWER ON THE LOOSE - Money Talks As West Virginians Hunker

(08/04/2002)

By Bob Weaver

The State of Kentucky has fined Massey Coal $3.25 million for one of the largest slurry spills in history - 250 million gallons of waste, much of it making its way into Tug Fork and Big Sandy Creek along the West Virginia-Kentucky border.

Kentucky and environmental officials said the spill could have been prevented.

Another $50 million settlement against Massey was reached in a Boone County Court last week, in which the jury sided with Harman Mining.

Boone County jurors said Massey committed fraudulent business misrepresentation and concealment, interfering with Harman's operations, sufficient to bankrupt it.

So far fines levied against Massey have represented only three-tenths of one percent of the corporations 2001 revenues, and could be viewed as incidental expenses for doing business.

During the Boone County trial, Massey's CEO Don Blankenship, a $15 million a year executive was angered at Charleston politicians because they were unable to increase the weight limits on coal trucks.

Blankenship said Massey would seek to move their operations to Kentucky, but that was before the $3.25 million fine. Most of the corporations un-mined coal holdings are in West Virginia.

He also made angry comments toward Gov. Bob Wise, who supported higher weight limits, indicating he did a poor job educating legislators.

The leadership of the House of Delegates vowed to have another day to increase the weight limits.

At the tail end of the truck debate, a Massey impoundment broke loose sending a gushing wall of water down Winding Shoals Hollow in Logan County, destroying homes and damaging property. The company had been warned about the problem.

Last weekend there was a minor controversy at Massey's employee picnic held on Charleston's Magic Island and on closed-off streets, including Kanawha Boulevard. Over 10,000 people attend the picnic, after CEO Blankenship said he was going to shift operations to Kentucky.

Charleston's Mayor Goldman became angry when challenged about using public property for the event, and a reporter discovered the streets were closed for a sum of $50 for three days.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton came to West Virginia this week to speak to the West Virginia Coal Association about mountain top removal. She said the public must be convinced in the court of public opinion that mountain top removal is acceptable.

She said "We need to plant more trees," referring to reclaiming sites. Hundreds of strip sites in West Virginia have never been reclaimed by the coal industry, many of the companies now long gone.

Norton flew over some mountain top removal sites and met with officials, but community and environmental groups declined to participate in the meeting. She told The Charleston Gazette, she saw some good things and bad things, but did notice the absence of trees. Norton did admit the "rules are hard to enforce" regarding reclamation, related to disputes.

Meanwhile, a special study of the effects of mountain top removal, will not be released by the federal government until 2003. They were to have been released in 2000.


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