Coal policy panel disrupted by protestors, continues - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Coal policy panel disrupted by protestors, continues

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A multi-state presentation of energy and environmental policy in Charleston was interrupted by coal protesters early Monday.

The Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Sciences, a primarily industry-funded initiative, hosted a symposium in downtown Charleston. The first panel discussion featured discussion with environmental department chiefs from West Virginia, Virginia and Kentucky alongside other policy influencers.

ARIES is directed by Virginia Tech's Center for Coal and Energy with significant funding from coal producers.

Shortly into the first presentation, two protestors locked themselves together and refused to leave unless Junior Walk, an activist with Radical Action for Mountain People's Survival, was allowed to speak. Walk was not in the conference room, but he protested outside the conference.

When the protestors refused to leave, the conference hosts called police to escort them away and moved the panel discussion to smaller room in the Charleston Marriott. The original conference was locked and guarded for at least two hours after conference-goers were moved to another room.

"It is regrettable that their actions delayed this important meeting designed to present and review the independent factual, scientific findings and information aimed at improving energy production and the environment in Appalachia," a statement from the ARIES host read. "We opened our doors to a number of community groups and are deeply disappointed these individuals chose disruption over meaningful dialogue."

According to a release from RAMPS, the protestors' names were Joe Solomon and David Baghdadi.

"This is just another example of the coal industry cynically trying to muddy the waters, distort the science and delay the inevitable," Walk said.

The first three speakers on the panel mostly reviewed the status of energy policy in their respective states, although West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman talked more about the importance of gathering facts from both sides of an argument to promote sound policy.

"The first thing is that people want to establish their position and then only use the information that supports their position," Huffman said.

He said environmental advocates and industry supporters both are guilty of not paying attention to facts on both sides. Those that come to the center, Huffman said, are ostracized by their respective groups.

"You can't make good policy when you are only trying to appeal to an emotion or sensationalize to make a point," Huffman said. "All sides must at least separate fact from fiction.

"We should not mine and drill at all costs, just as we should not drive ourselves out of a world marketplace on isolated pieces of data."

Leonard K. Peters, secretary Kentucky Cabinet of Environment and Natural Resources, described a number of problems familiar to West Virginia. Both states are heavily dependent on coal and have faced a decline in its use.

Also, coal states are encountering troubles as national policy shifts toward reduction of carbon-intensive fuels.

"We have a carbon footprint that is fifty percent higher than the national average," Peters said. "You have to ask yourself, is that a politically sustainable place to be as a state?"

Finding a way to maintain the low electric rates the region has enjoyed while complying with economic and environmental challenges, Peters said, is essential. Peters, like Huffman, insisted on even consideration of energy and environmental policy decisions.

"Environmental regulations are supposed to be based on science," Peters said. "You have to base it on the very best science."

Peters added that too many policies are made more by politics than science.

Conrad Spangler, director of the Virginia Department of Mines and Minerals, presented an overview of his state's energy situation. He said his state is vying to be the energy capital of the East Coast and is doing so with an "all-of-the-above" policy.

He said that coal markets, while on the decline domestically, may fare better in overseas markets.

"Coal's not going away," Spangler said. "The question is who is going to use it."

Karen Obershain of the Edison Electric Institute also gave an overview of current policy challenges in the electrical market. Sean Playsynski, deputy director, Strategic Center for Coal at the Fossil Energy Research Laboratory to Commercialization presented a summary of the work done at his organization.