(12/14/2002)
The attorney for 154 Sylvester residents said Elk Run Coal Company has poured tons of coal dust on the town for four years while refusing to take reasonable steps to stop the problem.

"Massey Energy's Elk Run operation is a terrible neighbor," Charleston attorney Brian Glasser said in opening statements this week at the Boone County courthouse.

The residents suing Massey Energy are asking the court to order Elk Run to stop the dust fall and reimburse them for damages the dust has caused.

"There is no coal process, coal mining facility, anywhere -- anywhere -- that has taken as many measures as Elk Run has to suppress dust," said the company attorney in an opening statement.

The trial started with home videos from plaintiffs that show Sylvester residents with dust coating their cars, their homes and even their elementary school.

Meanwhile, the company has launched a public relations program, TV spots showing generations of a family sitting around a table eating dinner. One middle-aged man is clearly anxious. He says his mining company is still waiting for permits and workers are expecting layoffs. Others at the table talk about how people in the community are leaving.

Former WVU Coach Don Nehlen will become a spokesperson for West Virginia Coal interests.

Massey has a long way to go since having one of the largest slurry spills ever recorded, numerous dam breaks and hundreds of environmental citations, costing the company millions of dollars. Environmental activists claim the company would likely have spent less money "taking care of business" and being a good environmental neighbor, than the costs of multiple lawsuits and fines.

The coal industry has blamed environmentalists and government regulators for the reduction in coal mining jobs from over 100,000 to about 15,000, but the reduction is linked to modern mining extraction, the closing of deep mines and rapid extraction with mountaintop mining.


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