While a representative of the state's coal industry said it wants to work with environmentalists and avoid more legal battles, a representative of Coal River Mountain Watch said the fights will continue in court.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney recently spoke to the coal industry's continuing back and forth in court with environmentalists during a discussion of the coal association's survey of state residents' opinion of the industry.

"Why do we not sit down and try to figure out if a person's got a problem with the coal industry? We're all smart enough to figure out how to make it work. If they don't think it's clean enough, let's clean it up," Raney said. "We're more than willing to sit down with whoever wants to, and I'll advance it out to whoever wants to do that."

A recent Coal Association poll found that state residents view the coal industry as the state's biggest economic contributor and believe it is doing a better job with the environment.

Raney said the industry is partly responsible for the state's $90 million surplus due to severance taxes, and this survey shows the faith that West Virginians have in the industry.

Terry Headley, communications director for the coal association, said, "It's quite obvious from these numbers that people understand the role coal plays, and they also understand its impact on their lives."

He said residents see the industry's importance in their daily lives, from where they make a living all the way down to companies that sponsor local little leagues.

But Judy Bonds, outreach coordinator for Coal River Mountain Watch, said environmental groups won't sit down with the industry.

"It is like sitting down with a criminal that is poisoning and blasting our children and our families, and (the coal industry) is poisoning and blasting us. It is criminal," she said.

She said CRMW views the court system and regulatory agencies as the mediators between groups like theirs and the industry. The environmental group's mission, according to Bonds, is to stop mountaintop removal mining and help rebuild sustainable communities.

She added that the group doesn't believe Raney's statement that the industry is ready to work with environmental groups.

"Raney's statement is nothing more than a PR ploy and an attempt to waste time and delay as our people in the communities are suffering," she said.

Raney said the survey will be used to gauge public relations efforts and determine where the group needs to get its message out more.

Bonds said many consider the discussion to be jobs versus the environment. But she said it's really jobs versus the environment and the people who live in mountaintop removal communities. She questioned why pollsters did not ask respondents about mountaintop removal and said findings may not have been so positive with different questions.

The coal association's survey, taken during the summer, included 601 respondents.

Among survey findings:

* 78 percent believe the industry is the biggest contributor to the state's economy,

* 59 percent said the industry is their local economy's biggest contributor,

* 86 percent believe "clean coal" technology is the best way to grow the state economy and create jobs,

* 85 percent agree the industry is doing a better job protecting the environment than 20 years ago,

* 77 percent say converting coal-to-liquid fuel is among the best ways to reduce gasoline costs and become less dependent on foreign oil,

* 70 percent say the governor and Legislature should promote the coal industry as a means to improve the economy.

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