HOLDEN, W.Va. — The chief executive of coal mining giant Massey Energy blasted supporters of climate-change legislation and other environmental issues affecting the coal industry at a free Labor Day concert and rally in southern West Virginia.
CEO Don Blankenship said he wanted to show people at the event how government regulation is hurting the coal industry, driving up energy prices and making the country less competitive.
"We're hopeful that through networking that they will educate their neighbors and that they'll all begin to speak out," Blankenship said. "We think that will make a difference."
Richmond, Va.-based Massey, which operates mines in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, is the lead sponsor of the rally, which Blankenship said cost about $1 million to stage.
Organizers had predicted the event, headlined by country star Hank Williams Jr., could draw as many as 100,000 people to a reclaimed Logan County strip mine. A Massey spokesman estimated the afternoon crowd at 70,000 during Williams' performance. A steady rain that developed near the end of Williams' set sent many in the crowd heading for home.
Roger Nicholson, general counsel of mine operator and co-sponsor International Coal Group, called the crowd "just great" regardless of size and said the aim is to "send a message to politicians that we're voters and these are important issues."
Headlining the event were Fox News personality Sean Hannity and Williams, while rocker Ted Nugent served as master of ceremonies and played briefly.
"Today's the day when the American worker takes back this country," Nugent said.
Hannity blasted President Barack Obama on several topics, including energy policy.
"Barack Obama hates the coal industry. Barack Obama hates the oil industry," Hannity said. "If they shut down the coal industry, we lose America as we know it."
The Obama administration has been criticized by coal mining advocates and environmentalists alike for its early attempts at regulating mining. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club have criticized the administration for not going far enough, while mine operators oppose climate legislation and greater scrutiny of surface mining permits.
Some came to support coal mining, while others were more interested in the music.
"This is like the backbone of this area, I mean whether you're a miner or not," said Joe Walters, an electrician who drove an hour from Kentucky.
Miner Dennis Blankenship, no relation to Don Blankenship, drove from southwestern Virginia to show support for mining.
"The industry is being attacked by the Obama administration," said Dennis Blankenship. "We don't mine coal, we don't live."
Hurricane resident Walter Neal came toting signs opposing climate-change legislation because it would increase energy prices and force more U.S. jobs overseas.
"It's cap and tax," Neal said. "What concerns us is China and India further gaining the advantage."
Others were less politically motivated.
Chapmanville resident Roger Dalton said he came mostly for the music. So, too, did Jason Bolling.
"More or less for the coal miners, plus the show," said Bolling, who works at a Massey mine in eastern Kentucky.
For Massey, however, the event was an opportunity for Blankenship to highlight what he calls attacks on American workers.
"Let's send the message to Washington that the politicians have to stop giving our jobs away. If they don't, it's the politicians that need to retrain and relocate," he said.
"We don't need a government that wants to shut down our coal mines. We don't want a government that wants to increase our power bills. ... We don't want a government that is run by people who believe they can change the earth's temperature when they can't balance a budget."