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King Coal’s Power “Tarnished” By National Trends

June 30, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Legislation to address climate change, declining approval in national polls, criticism of mountaintop removal notwithstanding, King Coal is still powerful in West Virginia, but some people say that overall that power is eroding.

All three of West Virginia's members of Congress voted against the cap-and-trade climate change bill, and West Virginia Wesleyan College professor of history and political science Robert Rupp says that's no surprise. He says what is surprising is that two of those votes were open to question at all. Rupp says the political positions of the industry and its critics in West Virginia are clearly defined and deeply entrenched, but he says national polls show skepticism about coal increasing and criticism rising over such issues as pollution and mountaintop removal. He says that limits the industry's influence in Washington.

"Coal is, as it always has been, king in West Virginia. But some of that crown is getting tarnished by national skepticism."

Rupp points out that the industry is organizing public demonstrations and publicity campaigns. He says that never would have been necessary in earlier days, when the political environment was assumed to be in King Coal's favor.

"The very fact that the coal industry is mobilizing really shows that they're reacting to a changed environment."

The industry insists that, since coal fuels half the country's electricity production, America can't afford to do without it. And they say West Virginia's economy is still dependent on mining. Critics point out that employment in the mines has been falling steadily for years, and they say the time has come to move toward less-destructive sources of power.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV