Big Coal Brainwashes West Virginia Students

Throughout America there is an intrusion of industry into environmental education in public schools. Corporations spend millions of dollars on attractively presented lesson plans, videos, coloring books and other materials to offer their version of clear cutting, gas and oil production, mining, farming and the glory of plastic bags. West Virginia classrooms are no exception.

Coal lobbyists are not satisfied controlling West Virginia politicians. Weakening mine safety legislation in the wake of twenty-nine miners killed in an unsafe mine gives them no rest. Despite knowing they have the governor and legislature under control, they leave nothing to chance. Coal public relations hacks intrude into classrooms to grab the innocent minds of children to guarantee another generation of coal control.

West Virginia coal companies have an “education” program called CEDAR. CEDAR’s goal is to “facilitate” in K through 12 classrooms, the “…understanding of the many benefits the coal industry provides in daily lives…”

Learning outcomes for West Virginia Schools do not include promoting the benefits of any industry. CEDAR’s promoting only coal industry benefits in the classroom qualifies as one-sided propaganda, not education.

When Priscilla Haden was state school board president she said about CEDAR that, “I want to make sure there are two sides to the story. I’m asking that we look at it and make sure that the other side is told and that this is truly a fair thing.” So far the state school board has not followed through on making sure the other side is told.

Now we have another coal industry intruder into environmental education. The West Virginia Department of Education posted on a listserv for science teachers an “opportunity” to learn how to teach environmental issues. Virginia Tech and the Eastern Coal Council announced it with this bold-type blurb: “PROJECT COAL TO ELECTRICITY: TEACHING – ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES. Coal + Power Plants + Technologies = Clean, Dependable Electricity.”   That announcement declares: “Coal is clearly the right energy for this country’s future. The Eastern Coal Council serves as a ‘chamber of commerce’ for the energy industries.”

It appears Virginia Tech and the Eastern Coal Council have already decided about the environmental issues when they claim ahead of time that coal produces clean electricity. With the energy industry’s “chamber of commerce” and seven coal companies as co-sponsors of the conference, it is obvious what “TEACHING ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES” will mean.

How can clean electricity be squared with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s research showing selenium from mountain top removal causes fish deformities or the WVU study that as county coal production increases, rates of killer diseases increase and birth defects are higher near mountain top removal? And the list of coal’s other well known negative impacts is far longer and more damaging than the list of “many benefits.”

The electricity that comes from plugging in a light to read by seems clean but the process of getting it to the light is dirty and destructive. There is no such thing as clean coal and no such thing as clean electricity made from coal.

Virginia Tech and their coal bosses have resisted repeating the coal industry billboard idiocy that coal is carbon neutral. Someone in the chemistry department at Virginia Tech must have enlightened them.




About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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