West Virginia author Denise Giardina on Saturday urged state residents to take back their state from "King Coal" and work to abolish mountaintop removal mining.Giardina was wildly cheered by a crowd of about 300 people who gathered at the state Capitol to protest inaction on the issue by Gov. Cecil Underwood and the Legislature."I am sick and tired of coal companies," said Giardina, a McDowell County native who wrote "Storming Heaven" and "The Unquiet Earth," about life in West Virginia coal camps."They came in here and stole our land, killed a hundred thousand miners, polluted our streams, ground our roads into dust with their coal trucks, and then they have the nerve to tell us that they should be able to destroy our mountains because they have created jobs," Giardina said."Well, the Mafia creates jobs, the Columbian drug cartel creates jobs, and pimps create jobs," Giardina said. "And they all create jobs the same way - by exploiting the people they employ."Giardina also attacked West Virginia University President David Hardesty and the WVU athletic department for allowing frequent Arch Coal Inc. pro-mountaintop removal ads during football and basketball broadcasts."I've got my shirt on, Dr. Hardesty, and it says ëWest Virginia Mountaineers,' not ëWest Virginia flat-eers,'" Giardina said.Giardina also said the state needs a governor who would use the state's right of imminent domain to take back coal company land and return it to local ownership for economic development."King Coal has reigned in West Virginia for 100 years," Giardina said. "King Coal is dead. Long live the people of West Virginia."
Giardina highlighted a more than two-hour rally that also included folk songs, a children's skit and first-person accounts from coalfield residents of mountaintop removal's damage. About 50 Methodist activists from the group Methodists for Social Change marched into the rally, held on the west side of the Capitol near the Governor's Mansion, carrying anti-mountaintop-removal signs."There is Scripture on this: ëYour heart is where your treasure is,'" said John Taylor, a spokesman for the group."Where is Arch Coal's heart? Where is A.T. Massey's heart? Where is Cecil Underwood's heart?" Taylor asked. "Their hearts are in their checkbooks, and they're gaining by the destruction of sacred places."
Last week, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney issued a statement that said, "These people want to ban coal mining altogether, and the tragedy is their actions have already resulted in the loss of hundreds of jobs."Raney said his group would "redouble our efforts to educate the public, our elected officials and others on what's at stake and how the distortions of a vocal minority have seriously harmed peoples' lives and the economy of the state." To contact staff writer Ken Ward Jr., call 348-1702.