The coal industry would like the country to think coal is a popular American fuel that is suffering under a war waged by the Obama administration. But a petition the industry organized on the White House’s “We the People” website demanding President Obama apologize to coal miners failed to reach even 8 percent of the signatures required within 30 days.
On July 3, the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) sounded the alarm to its members about a planned White House petition created by WVCA, other coal groups, and anyone else “concerned” about President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
The petition asked President Obama to “end his assault” on coal mining families, demanded that he apologize to coal miners, and then asked him to implement policies that encourage coal use. WVCA’s post explained that the effort needed “all hands on deck to participate and sign the petition because we must obtain a minimum number of signatures in order to require a response from the White House.”
The petition went live on July 12, and the coal industry swung into action, stating, “we will need to mobilize all our employees, families, friends and colleagues to sign the petition and insure we reach the threshold.”
The industry expects broad support for efforts like this. It likes to say that coal is popular everywhere, even in surveys that poll Democrats in swing states. Even if electric power companies don’t buy the convenient rhetoric that there is a “War on Coal,” the concept has caught on in some circles. After the 2012 election, a WCVA petition to end the “war on coal” received nearly 30,000 signatures, then enough to trigger a response.
So what happened with the “all hands on deck” push to sign the industry’s petition? According to the White House, the petition collected just 7,462 signatures. That’s 92,538 short of the minimum requirement to garner a response.
The coal industry, however, suspects that many more people tried to sign, but were foiled by the White House’s website. Jason Bostic, Vice President of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Climate Progress that he had personal experience trying to help neighbors and friends sign the petition, and saw the website present “all sorts of technical issues” to the petitioners.
The WVCA told the trade publication SNL that it was “remarkable” that anyone got through the process at all, saying that more than 100,000 had tried and failed because of the “maze” set up to register for the site. Asked if this “maze” could have been a deliberate change or something specific to this petition, Bostic said he did not want to speculate.
Their petition is the only coal petition he was aware of and there are no immediate plans to try again.
The White House has incrementally increased the number of signatures required before it issues a response from 5,000 to 25,000 in 2011, and in January raised it to 100,000. 13 percent of petitions meet the required number of signatures but do not receive a response — according to this website that tracks them, the coal petition was not on that list.
Over 10 million people have used the “We the People” site to create more than 260,000 petitions. Those petitions collectively received 15 million signatures. 21 have collected more than 100,000. A petition to allow electric car maker Tesla Motors to sell directly to consumers in all 50 states collected 114,773 names.
Friends of Coal, a front group for the West Virginia Coal Association that believes teachers are turning their students against coal in the classroom, made news in 2009 for producing a children’s coloring book called “Let’s Learn About Coal.”
Even though Wyoming produces nearly four times the amount of coal that West Virginia does, West Virginia mines a lot of it, and coal is still part of the state’s identity.
The West Virginia Coal Association uses petitions like this to suggest a false war on a mining industry that has not helped its state diversify, innovate, or become more wealthy. Nationally, mechanization has had a larger long-term impact on coal jobs. That said, if the coal industry wants to say something to President Obama, it should probably mention that average U.S. coal mining job numbers are 15 percent higher under Obama than they were under former President Bush.
(Source: Appalachian Voices)