Virginia Tech has its own unique role in the debate; the school has a special relationship with coal, as well as the mining of resources.
Tech’s campus still runs on energy produced on campus from a coal-fired plant and intends to continue running on coal-power for the foreseeable future. The use of coal on campus has been the subject of scrutiny over the past few years, with notable groups like Beyond Coal and the Virginia Tech Environmental Coalition forming protests against the school’s coal use last year.
Tech is also home to one of the largest mining and minerals engineering school in the nation, with just over 200 undergraduate students.
According to Kyle Louk, president of the Burkhart Mining Society at Tech, nearly a quarter of actively working mining engineers graduated from Tech, some with special interests in coal.
“In the past five years, about 25-26 percent have entered into the coal industry,” said Louk.
With its own substantial interest in coal, Tech hosts several environmental awareness and informational groups. The perspective on the current coal debate amongst members of these groups, however, is not always the same.
Greg Jennison is the Virginia Tech representative for FACES of Coal, a nationwide group that advocates the protection and dissemination of information regarding coal mining on the east coast. Jennison attained first hand experience with coal mining over the summer.
“Obama’s policies and regulations are hurting the coal industry,” said Jennison, a junior mining and minerals engineering major. “I worked in a coal mine this summer, and you could just tell from all the regulations he’s been putting in… it’s hurting the coal industry.”
Kara Dodson, campaign coordinator for Beyond Coal, disagrees with Jennison.
“It’s not driven by Obama. If you look at his political campaign, it’s about clean coal, which is what every Republican says too,” Dodson said. “Companies are replacing people with machinery, and that’s why jobs are being cut. It’s not a regulation driven approach. Regulations are needed because we have scientific evidence of coal pollution.”
Division among these groups is representative of Virginia’s current indecision regarding the welfare of coal miners.
According to Dodson, political actions aren’t always in the best interest of the Virginia’s coal miners.
“It’s just a political game, honestly, and Morgan Griffith is holding onto that,” Dodson said. “He’s not from the coal fields. He’s from Salem.”
Despite this, the debate surrounding Obama’s ‘War on Coal’ has a special place here on Tech’s campus.
“The region that we’re in is heavily rooted in coal,” said Louk. “This is something vital to our campus.”
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