Phil Smith made the statement at the Appalachian Studies Association's annual conference at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., on March 29, Ken Ward Jr. reports: "Smith shocked most of the room [when] he declined to veto" a proposed ban. "As a long-term goal, I don't think we would be opposed to that," he said. "This is something we ought to be talking about." He added that if the person making the proposal "had said end mountaintop removal tomorrow, I think we would have had a problem with it."
The UMW has been ambivalent on the controversial subject, calling in 1998 for tougher regulation but then attacking "environmental extremists" whose legal actions led to a court decision that jeopardized the jobs of 400 union members at a mountaintop mine in West Virginia. Since then, "environmental lawyers picked their targets more carefully," targeting nonunion mines, which are much more prevalent in mountaintop mining, Ward writes. Smith said the union is also trying to organize strip mines, and "If there were suddenly 5,000 UMW jobs in mountaintop removal instead of 500, there would be a political element within the union to deal with that."
The UMW's influence is greatest in West Virginia, where its members are organized at mines with 44 percent of the state's underground production and 13 percent of the strip-mine production, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data from 2006, the latest year available. Strip mines accounted for 43 percent of the state's coal production, and their share has been rising in the past decade, Ward notes. (Read more) For EIA data from other states, click here for an Excel spreadsheet, here for a Web page and here for a PDF.