King Coal's Curse

Environmental Torts
West Virginia Coal Mines

By Lynn Shapiro, Staff Writer

Personal Injury Attorney, Jeff Robinette, Addresses Major Concerns Regarding the Trump Administration’s Disregard for the Environment, and Empty Promises for Coal Mining Jobs 

Attorney Jeffery (Jeff) L. Robinette, of Robinette Legal Group, PLLC, Morgantown, W.Va., believes Appalachian coal miners are being hoodwinked by wealthy coal companies who destroy the environment and promise jobs they’ll never deliver.

Older miners, who still remember what they call “the good old days” when coal was king, want their coal mining jobs back, even if it means polluting their rivers with arsenic and other toxic chemicals, making the water reserves undrinkable, Robinette says.

However, in reality, they can’t have their mines back, as the majority of Appalachian coal mines are “all but tapped out.”

Robinette shared a portion of a speech made by former Senator and West Virginia governor, John D. (Jay) Rockefeller, speaking at the West Virginia College of Law in April, 2016, while Trump was running for President.

Rockefeller told the newly minted attorneys, “played-out coal seams, a changing world that sees the value of reigning in our carbon footprint, and a reluctant financial market, all paint a grim picture for Appalachian coal jobs.

“Neither a court ruling nor change in administrations will bring back a roaring coal industry that employs the hundreds of thousands it once employed or fill state coffers with abundant coal revenues,” Rockefeller said.

Trump Signs Coal Owners a $50 Million Check; Overturns Stream Protection Rule

On February, 16, Trump made a priority of overturning the Stream Protection Rule, requiring the monitoring of water before, during, and after mining, and prohibiting “material damage” to streams and groundwater outside a mining area.

By signing away the environmental protections, Trump handed coal company executives $50 million.

While loudly promising he’d bring back coal jobs, in reality, there will be only about 100 to 200 new jobs created in West Virginia, in Robinette’s estimation.

During Trump’s February stream-protection revocation ceremony, he cavalierly signed away the environment and people’s health with what he called a “great” pen he gave to a young man with a yellow hard-hat, who looked more like a celebrity apprentice than a coal miner.  Watch Video

Buffalo Creek Flood Could Happen Again

Another tragedy, like the Buffalo Creek flood, could happen again if Trump succeeds in eliminating reclamation efforts.

Buffalo Creed Flood - Public Domain Photo via Wikipedia

In 1972, the quintessential stream refuse crisis happened when the coal ponds flooded at Buffalo Creek in southern West Virginia, causing one of the deadliest floods in U.S. history.  Negligent strip mining and heavy rain produced a raging flood, Robinette said.

“In a matter of minutes, 118 were dead and over 4,000 people were left homeless. Seven were never found.

After coal is washed and separated, particulates called ‘fines’ are dumped into refuse ponds.

They introduce huge amounts of arsenic and toxic chemicals into the main water supply so it actually looks copper-colored.

Robinette says that the tradeoff isn’t worth the devastation to the rivers and the mountains, and the high rates of illness mining causes among the Appalachian people, just to export our coal to other nations, mostly China and India.

“If there’s a deregulation of these coal operations allowing the coal companies to bend or break the rules, we’re trading a handful of jobs right now for decades of bad and harsh environmental problems that will affect people’s health for decades,” Robinette says.

Only Two Groups Benefit: It’s Not the Coal Miners

“The final analysis is only two groups are going to benefit.

And it’s not going to be the West Virginia coal miners.

“It’s going to be the coal companies and the local governments that collect an excise tax on coal mining.

 “While it is true that the extra local taxes will help support local infrastructure, it is too little, too late,” Robinette says.

“We don’t have money for police, infrastructure, and roads; we have mass exoduses of young people and abandoned homes. We have high rates of cancer.”

Ironically, Robinette says the backlash against supporting the environment is coming from coal miners themselves.

“Miners believe we should do more for the economy than for ecology.

“If you put the two on a scale, miners believe we’d be better off ‘Making America Great’, rather than ‘Making America Safe,” Robinette says.

King Coal’s Reign

When Jeff Robinette grew up in the 60’s, McDowell County drew a tremendous amount of interest both politically and financially because of the great value of coal fields, not just to West Virginia but to the nation and the world.

“I was born in 1959. I rode in parades when great dignitaries came to Welch, West Virginia, which is the McDowell County seat, to participate in Veterans Day and Memorial Day parades.

The main source of income for its residents is derived from the coal mining industry.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the population boomed and reached more than 100,000 residents. 

With the loss of over 70,000 coal mining jobs, the main source of income now is Federal Unemployment Compensation and Social Security. 

West Virginia is traditionally a Democrat state, but Trump won the state by promising to bring back coal mining jobs.

“I saw the glory days, but also saw the dark side of coal mining,” Robinette said.

“High school kids I knew were faking their age to get into coal mining and foregoing their education in order to get quick money.

“They were short-sighted because coal companies were moving away from individual manpower to mechanized systems of continuous miners and long wall mining.” Robinette stated.

Now McDowell County is nationally recognized for having the highest per capita opioid drug overdose deaths, extreme poverty, and dangerously poor water quality, with the resulting health effects in the remaining population, Robinette says.

Trump’s Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross, Owned Mine that Exploded

Even those coal miners, who are enamored by Trump, can’t quite swallow his pick for Commerce Secretary, Manhattan billionaire, Wilbur Ross.

It just so happened that Ross owned the Sago Mine, site of a mining disaster in January, 2006.

Thirteen miners were trapped and only one got out alive, says Robinette, who helped one of the victim’s family receive the compensation they deserved.

No blame was established, Robinette said.

However, according to the Washington Post, the fire inspector, John Bony, reported a methane gas leak five days before the accident.

No corrective action was taken by mine owners before the explosion occurred, caused by a lightning strike that ignited the methane.

Bony retired soon after the accident and shortly thereafter, committed suicide.

According to the Post, Secretary Ross told ABS “he knew the mine had been cited with 208 violations, that he accepted responsibility for the disaster, that he had NOT made a personal contribution toward a fund for miners’ families, and that his company ‘never scrimped on safety expenditures.”

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