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Green Commencement Speech: OSU President Gee Should Resign from Massey Board

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At the 2009 Annual Stockholders' Meeting of Massey Energy on May 19, 2009, board member and Ohio State University president E. Gordon Gee will have an extraordinary opportunity to turn a public relations nightmare into a national teaching moment: As one of our nation's esteemed university presidents, he could provide a breakthrough in the clean energy and climate change debate by publicly resigning his position from the board, and calling on Massey Energy to end their devastating mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia.

Or, President Gee can sit quietly, collect his board of directors check for an estimated $219,000, and continue to be complicit in one of the most scandalous human rights and environmental violations in the country.

As co-chair of the Energy Initiative Advisory Committee of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, President Gee plays an unusually prominent role in the clean energy and climate destabilization debate among our higher education institutions. He has called on our nation to "solve the enormous challenge of energy independence by coalescing our vast human talent, creativity and innovation." In one press release, he hailed: "This century's Sputnik moment awaits our solution."

Earlier this spring, Gee steered Ohio State University into a leadership role in a highly touted federal partnership for "Energy Discovery-Innovation Institutes."

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown praised OSU's initiative for "ground-breaking efforts of the Ohio State University and Dr. Gee's leadership to transform our nation's energy system. From green energy research to green energy manufacturing, Ohio is ready to lead the nation as we create a green energy supply line that will turn around our economy and stem the tide of climate change."

Therefore, Gee's misguided and incomprehensible defense of Massey Energy--the fourth largest coal company in the nation, and one of the most aggressive and denounced mountaintop removal violators in American history-- completely derails any meaningful legacy and efforts for clean energy and academic integrity.

Yesterday, in fact, ten citizens groups from Ohio, the Appalachian coalfields, and around the nation called on Gee to uphold a higher sense of academic standards and resign from the board. Posted on the Ohio Citizens website, the letter recalls Gee's promise in April:"If I can't make a difference on a board then I will not serve." The letter continues: "Dr. Gee joined Massey's board in 2000. Since then, Massey has dramatically increased its mountaintop removal operations. It also violated the Clean Water Act over 4,500 times between January 2000 and December 2006, leading to the largest U.S. EPA lawsuit settlement in history. Whatever Dr. Gee has said or done behind closed doors at Massey, it is now clear that he has not made a difference. The company continues -- to this day -- to commit the worst environmental atrocity of our time, mountaintop removal."

For more information, see: http://www.ohiocitizen.org/campaigns/coal/gee.html

ProgressOhio, as well, has called on Gee to resign, and has done a brilliant analysis of the conflict between Gee's interests and Massey's brutal policies in Appalachia. See: http://www.progressohio.org/page/community/post/brianrothenberg/CqRl

In a now legendary interview in April with the OSU student newspaper Lantern, Gee attempted to depict his role on the board of Massey as a way of working for environmental change within the tent. As a Director, he is also chair of the Massey Board's committee for Safety, Environmental & Public Policy. But he didn't stop there. In the interview (see the footage below), Gee went out of his way to not only defend Massey's coal mining agenda, but incorrectly justify its outrageous environmental record.

Gee declared: "If you take a look at Massey's record, it has one of the best environmental records in the country."

In truth, since Gee's directorship began in 2000, Massey's mountaintop removal operations have destroyed thousands of acres of hardwood forests, sullied and jammed untold miles of streams with mining fill, and unleashed a campaign of blasting and coal dust that has had made life unbearable for anyone in the strip-mined areas. Mountaintop removal has ripped out the roots of the Appalachian culture and depopulated the historic mountain communities in the process, preventing any diversified or sustainable economy, and led to high poverty rates in the strip-mining areas.

In the same year Gee joined the board in 2000, a Massey subsidiary in eastern Kentucky was responsible for the largest coal slurry spill in history (at that point), leaking over 300 million gallons of toxic sludge into the area's waterways and aquifers.

As the former president of Brown and Vanderbilt universities, a former dean of the West Virginia University law school, and a one-time clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, Gee also made the remarkably unfounded comment that Massey has, "as any major coal company, been accused of certain issues, of which have been litigated and which they have won."

In truth, just in recent years, Massey has been forced to pay $20 million in penalties for dumping toxic mine waste into the region's waterways; last year, Massey paid a record $4.2 million for civil and criminal fines in the death of two coal miners in West Virginia.

As President Gee knows, OSU students, like the faculty and administration, are held to a code of conduct. Students, faculty and administrators must: Not engage in any activity that tends to compromise the academic integrity of the university; endanger health or safety; destroy property; use dangerous weapons or devices; and exhibit dishonest conduct.

If President Gee applied that same code of conduct to Massey Energy, the company he keeps would fail miserably.

Here's the interview with the Lantern:

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