'Complete story is just not being told'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia miners who contend environmentalists are giving the industry a bum rap are planning a campaign to emphasize the importance of coal to the nation's economy and security.

Citizens for Coal is the brainchild of Roger Horton, a truck driver at St. Louis-based Patriot Coal Corp.'s Guyan mine, a Logan County mountaintop removal site that has been targeted by environmentalists. Horton envisions Citizens for Coal as a way for miners to educate lawmakers and the public about the industry and counter criticism from environmentalists.

That criticism focuses on mountaintop removal mining, a practice that blasts apart ridgetops to expose multiple seams of coal. Mountaintop mines in Appalachia employ an estimated 14,000 people and produce approximately 14 percent of the nation's power-producing coal.

"The complete story is just not being told," Horton said. "We're going to tell them exactly what it is that we do, show them how it's done and show them the amounts of taxes that are paid, how these people go about their daily lives, training their children in the local education associations, the schools, show them just how we live our lives as average Americans and show them that we're not villains, we're not out destroying the environment."

The launch of Citizens for Coal comes as the coal and power industries find themselves under growing scrutiny from Congress and environmentalists after recent waste spills at power plants in Tennessee and Alabama. Environmental groups that have long blasted mountaintop mining are pointing to the Tennessee Valley Authority's coal ash spills to further the argument that there's no such thing as clean coal.

"This sounds like another front group for the coal industry," Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition executive director Janet Keating said in an e-mail. "How many more millions of dollars does this industry have to spend to convince the public that its lies are truths?"

Horton concedes mountaintop mining changes the state's topography, but adds: "We're doing it for the good."

He said the fledgling group recently set about raising money. So far, it has received $2,500 from the Logan County Commission, but Horton plans to solicit more money.