After watching part of the movie Is God Green? in class I know that myself and many of my classmates were deeply appalled by the damage that the coal mining industry of West Virginia has done to the environment. Tops are being removed from the beautiful Appalachian Mountains that have for centuries characterized the landscape. Runoff from the explosions it takes to “de-top” these mountains is polluting the streams, rivers, and bodies of freshwater. Toxic waste from the plants is being dumped into giant holes in the cut off mountains or being buried in old mines and the waste is somehow finding a way into many communities’ water supply.
So after hearing details of all of these horrors that are being implemented on the WV communities as a seeming result of capitalism gone too far, it left me with a few questions: Who benefits from this Industry? And what are the positive effects of the industry for the communities of WV? Surely this Industry and its historic role in the state have some argument. So I have decided to play a bit of a devil’s advocate and provide some positives of the coal mining industry’s presence in WV.
The first coal was first discovered in WV in 1742 and has grown into their most notable industry ever since. There has been a long history of struggle in the state for coal miners’ rights and decent wages; however, the miners have made much progress in the second half of the century and mining still puts food on the table for thousands of families. Today the West Virginia Coal Industry provides about 40,000 jobs to West Virginians. Also the state accounts for 15 percent of the US’s total coal production, leading the nation in underground coal production and accounting for approximately 50% of US coal exports.
As for the financial system, the coal industry provides crucial support to economy of WV:
• Taxes paid by the coal industry and by utility companies that make electricity using West Virginia coal account for two-thirds, or over 60% of business taxes paid in our state.
• The coal industry pays approximately $70 million in property taxes annually.
• The Coal Severance Tax pumps approximately $214 million into West Virginia’s economy.
• Twenty-four million dollars of coal severance taxes collected each year goes directly into the Infrastructure Bond Fund.
• All 55 counties, even the non-coal producing counties receive Coal Severance Tax funds.
• The coal industry payroll is nearly $2 billion per year.
• Coal is responsible for more than $3.5 billion annually in the gross state product.
This information is not intended in any way to belittle the corrosion and havoc that has been wrecked on the environment as a result of mining in WV; however, I believe that in order to truly combat an issue or to formulate an answer to any problem, especially one with historically deep roots in a community, it is important to have a general understanding of where BOTH sides are coming from.