Protesters Make Voices Heard on Energy Industry

MARTINS FERRY – While the anticipation in the Staffilino Chevrolet parking lot culminated as Vice President Joe Biden took the stage Thursday morning, strains of the “Star Spangled Banner” could be heard in the distance as nearly 100 coal, gas and oil exploration workers and advocates protested what they believe is an attack on their respective industries by the current administration.

The group, organized by We The People-Ohio Valley, held signs and occasionally “booed” as Biden discussed the auto industry bailout of 2009 and its effect on dealerships such as Staffilino’s. However, the thoughts and concerns of those gathering outside were on jobs, or lack thereof, especially in the coal industry.

“Coal-fired power plant closings and Environmental Protection Agency regulations have taken their toll on the people who live and work in the Valley,” said Bob Conners, organizer for We The People. “We are here to make a respectful, peaceful protest of this administration’s policies.”

Many of the coal miners in the crowd work at American Energy’s Century Mine and came to the event after finishing a midnight shift. Ryan Murray, son of Murray Energy Corp. Chief Executive Officer Robert Murray, said despite having worked all night and being tired, the miners wanted their voices to be heard.

“They’re tired, but they care,” he said, adding the group featured miners from various energy companies coming together for a common goal. “They just want to work and be left alone and support their families.”

Murray said strict EPA regulations, as well as President Barack Obama’s comments about making the cost of implementing those changes high enough to potentially bankrupt some companies, were reason enough to spend the morning protesting.

“My father has said that in his 52 years in the business, he has never seen such disregard for the regulatory process,” Murray said.

The coal industry wasn’t the only concern of the group, as workers and advocates for shale gas and oil drilling also made their voices heard. Jonathan Petrea of Energy Citizens Ohio, said Biden had failed to address energy in his Wednesday stop in Youngstown, Ohio, which Petrea believed should have been a major component of his visit to the region. Biden did not comment on energy during his comments in Martins Ferry on Thursday.

“Coal and gas and oil are some of the most important issues for a lot of people here, and he didn’t discuss it at all,” he said.

However, Ed Good, a Shadyside resident and Truth Team member for Obama for America-Ohio, said under the administration coal production is up 70 percent and employment in the Appalachian region is at a 14-year high. He said his background as an industry worker allows him to understand both sides of the situation.

“I understand the challenges, and when you look at accusations that say the cost of your electric bill are going to go up or jobs are being cut, it just isn’t true,” he said.

Good said regulations and the implementation of new equipment will cause plants and mines to hire more workers. Additionally, he said many of those regulations greatly improve the safety of workers on those job sites.

“Some people may say these things are job killers, but we think of them as job creators,” he said.

The group of miners arrived early Thursday and initially staked a claim at the entrance to the Staffilino parking lot; however, they were asked by security staff to move up Hanover Street. After they set up about a block away from the entrance, caution tape was placed in front of them as Biden’s motorcade drove by.

“I don’t think that is a good statement on their part,” Murray said.