By Ron Gregory
LOGAN – The Logan High School Fieldhouse was packed with LHS students Tuesday as various elected officials participated with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in a ceremonial bill signing.
The event, which also included others primarily from the coal industry, was part of a coal forum. The West Virginia Coal Forum is an organization representing both labor and management from the coal industry. The meeting in Logan was co-sponsored by the Logan County Chamber of Commerce.
Special recognition was given to area legislators who were instrumental in the passage of House Bill 4346, which the governor officially signed after passage by the 2014 legislature. The participation by students was billed as an educational opportunity in which the students saw how a bill is signed into law by the governor.
LHS Principal Kelly Stanley welcomed those in attendance before Forum Co-Chair Chris Hamilton presided over the opening events. The forum was scheduled to convene at noon but did not start until Tomblin arrived at about 12:20 p.m.
Hamilton introduced another Forum Co-Chair, Fred Tucker, who introduced U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall.
“I stand with each and every one of you as a defender of coal, a fighter for coal jobs, and a warrior for the future of coal-fired power in America,” Rahall said. “I staunchly oppose the EPA’s bullheaded actions against coal. I am in this battle for the long-haul, and don’t let anyone – anyone – tell you different.”
One of the forum’s primary focuses was to make the public aware of potential federal Environmental Protection Agency rules that will apparently be detrimental to West Virginia’s coal-fired power plants.
Michael Browning represented U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, who could not attend.
Remarks followed by state Sens. Art Kirkendoll and Ron Stollings. Kirkendoll, of Logan County, expressed concern that “we do not even use a majority of West Virginia coal here in this state. We can buy it cheaper from Pennsylvania and transport it here. That’s wrong.”
Stollings said he and the House of Delegates delegation from Southern West Virginia “represent the coal team in Charleston, along with Governor Tomblin. Congressman Rahall and Senator Manchin are on the team in Washington.”
House of Delegates Majority Leader Harry Keith White of Mingo County spoke next, also praising the legislative and congressional delegations.
“We’re all pro-coal,” White said. He particularly noted the efforts of fellow delegates Ted Tomblin and Justin Marcum.
Del. Rupie Phillips of Logan County told the crowd of his legislative license plate: “Coal Del.” He added, “Some people in Charleston don’t like it when they see that, but I am the coal delegate. “
Tomblin then spoke about his devotion to West Virginia coal and told the students, “As you look to future occupations, there are problems in the coalfields, but there are problems elsewhere as well.” He urged the students to “give serious consideration to your coal history.”
The governor also noted that another coalfield delegate, Jeff Eldridge of Lincoln County, has been instrumental “in the fight to slow down the EPA.”
Tomblin also said, “You don’t know how close we were, the past cold winter, to having power outages all over the place. America needs West Virginia coal.”
The governor then moved to an adjacent table where he ceremoniously signed the bill designed to help West Virginia coal with EPA-administered emission regulations.
Following a brief break, the session evolved into roundtable discussion groups headed primarily by the legislators in attendance.