THE BLOG
11/18/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blood Money: Will WVU Honor Coal Miner Heroes and Students or Violating Dirty Coal Barons?

This might be the shameless story of the week: Either that, or West Virginia University president James P. Clements has a lot of explaining to do--especially to the widows and children of the deceased miners in Crandall Canyon, Utah, and to the sick children and ailing communities in the Coal River Valley of West Virginia.

First, a simple question about academic integrity, honor and shamelessness: Should West Virginia University endow a chair in memory of the fallen coal miner heroes entombed in the disastrous Crandall Canyon Utah mine, or in the name of the coal baron who was cited and fined by MSHA (Mine Safety and Health Administration) for "violations that directly contributed to the deaths of six miners."

Secondly, should West Virginia University name a scholarship in honor of the students at Marsh Fork Elementary School, who live and study amid coal dust and downslope of billions of gallons of a coal sludge dam in the Coal River Valley, or in the name of the Massey Energy company that has been cited and fined record amounts for the deaths of coal miners and paid the largest civil penalty for water violations.

Thanks to Charleston Gazette/Coal Tattoo journalist Ken Ward, we learned last week that West Virginia University quietly announced on September 11 that it had established the Robert E. Murray Chairmanship in Mining Engineering, "in honor" of a $1 million donation from coal baron Bob Murray. (The donation went through the West Virginia Foundation, a 501 (c) 3 tax-deductible organization.)

According to WVU President James P. Clements, the contribution is part of the state's Research Trust Fund that "will support research on safer, more efficient and cost effective ways to use fossil fuels."

Should the Crandall Canyon mine disaster be uttered in the same sentence as "safer ways to use fossil fuels?" Does the WVU president understand Murray's history of mine safety violations in Utah and across the country?

Consider the role of safety, honor and dignity in this tribute to the Crandall Canyon Mine Memorial:

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

And here is Bob Murray at Crandall Canyon, denying any role of retreat mining, in what the CNN anchor calls "one of the most bizarre press conferences I have ever seen":

According to the searing MSHA report on Crandall Canyon, Murray's company GRI:

--GRI misled MSHA about the extent of the March 10 coal burst and failed to immediately inform MSHA about the March 7 and August 3 bursts.

--GRI submitted an inadequate roof control plan based on faulty AAI engineering analyses to MSHA.

--GRI failed to adequately revise its roof control plan to provide better support after the March 7, March 10, and August 3 bursts and continued to expose miners to unsafe conditions.

--GRI violated the approved roof control plan when coal was mined in a prohibited area.

A few months ago, West Virginia University also collected a cool $500,000 from infamous Massey CEO Don Blankenship to demonstrate "the company's commitment to ensuring a bright future for young West Virginians."

Bright future of mountaintop removal and coal sludge, really? Even on the heels of the NY Times investigative report on coal slurry violations and subsequent disease among coalfield children, and the continuing agony of Massey's mountaintop removal shadow over Marsh Fork Elementary School students?

Here's a view of the Marsh Fork Elementary School and children a few hundred yards away from billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge:

2009-09-18-marshfork2.jpg

While no one begrudges WVU for cashing these checks in these hard times, and while no one is calling for the institution to return the donations--as many universities did with tainted tobacco industry contributions--the WVU president needs to explain to his students, faculty, the alumni, the governing board of the university, the United Mine Workers of America, and the general public, why he has chosen to honor two of the most denounced and controversial coal barons in the country instead of his state's own children, and our nation's coal miner heroes and mining safety workers buried in Crandall Canyon.