SHERIDAN — Most people know little about what happens in America’s mines, and yet our cars, electronic devices, bridges, buildings — you name it — wouldn’t exist without mining.
With the world of mining shrouded in somewhat of a mystery for most people, it’s been easy for opponents of mining to push policies that make it difficult, or sometimes impossible, to mine in America.
“No other business or industry in the world is influenced more than ours, by politics and policy,” said Chris Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Coal Association, during a presentation at the Wyoming Mining Association Annual Convention on Thursday in Sheridan.
Industry advocates and spokespeople are taking different approaches to better communicating the story of mining to the American people.
Fight By Nature
Daniel Turner, executive director of Power The Future, thinks the industry would benefit more from speaking blunt truths.
In 2016, Turner was doing public relations work to counter the messaging that came out of protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline went under a lake near Bismarck, North Dakota, and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Though the pipeline didn’t cross any part of tribal land, protests erupted claiming it was violating tribal sovereignty and threatening the tribe’s drinking water.
Turner said there was a lot of misinformation spreading out from the protests. He noticed that one of the main spokespeople for the protesters — a man who was always talking on TV about how the pipeline was destroying the sacred land —- had a New Jersey accent.
Turner wanted to research who the person was, find out who’s funding him and call him out as a liar.
“I am from Queens. You can hear my accent a little bit. And I'm Irish and Italian. And we like to fight by nature,” Turner said, who lives on a farm in West Virginia “with lots of guns.”
The more he dove into energy issues and fighting “radical green groups,” he said, the more he was told he couldn’t state things so bluntly.
“I got so damned tired of being told not to say that,” he said.
Turner founded Power The Future so that the energy and mining industries would have an independent voice that wasn’t beholden to the constraints of corporate communications, which he says are limiting the ability of the industries to communicate the benefits they provide.
“Look at what they say about us. We're murderers. Everyone in New York right now is probably experiencing smoke for the first time in their life. And they're blaming the folks in this room,” Turner told the attendees of the mining convention.
While media reports are blaming climate change for the wildfires in Canada, which are smothering New York City in a dense haze, the percentage of acres burned annually in Canada is down.
A recent study published in the International Journal of Wildland Fire found that “fire activity in North American boreal forests has predominantly decreased over the combined windows of analysis, and that burn rates during the modern period are broadly within the historical range of variability.”
Turner’s direct criticisms of the environmental movement has angered green policymakers.
In April, he testified before the House Ways and Means Committee about the effects of the Biden energy agenda on rural America.
During the testimony, Turner pointed out that world coal consumption is increasing, but America’s share of it decreases, which he said runs counter to sound environmental policy.
Coal mining and burning still happens, he said, but it’s not happening with union jobs, OSHA standards or EPA regulations like we have here in America, which is just making it worse for the environment.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-New Jersey, responded to Turner by making an issue out of comments Turner posted on Twitter that compared the environmentalist movement to communist China.
“They didn't look at my testimony or my information on my facts or any of the other character witnesses,” Turner said.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Missouri, gave Turner an opportunity to respond to Pascrell’s criticisms.
Turner told the story of how he was supporting elders of the Navajo Nation who were fighting to keep a coal mine open.
Turner said the tribe members viewed the efforts to shut down coal mines as another effort by white people to keep them in poverty.
As communism keeps people in poverty, Turner said, so does the green energy movement.
Turner told Cowboy State Daily the work Power The Future is doing is having an impact on policymakers, and he’s considering the possibility of opening an office in Wyoming.
He said environmental organizations will often target individuals and organizations that speak too loudly about their opposition.
While they can call coal miners murderers, Turner said, the industry can’t point out that shutting down coal plants drives energy poverty, which can get people killed.
“It's helpful to have one group that speaks plainly that doesn't have to worry about losing membership, losing revenue and losing business,” he said.
Turner said that they do a lot of preaching to the choir, but he believes that has value as well.
“Sometimes the choir needs to be preached to because otherwise you stop going to church,” Turner said.
Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, told Cowboy State Daily that there are limitations to what companies and associations can say, and it can be helpful to have a voice that doesn’t operate with those limitations.
“To have a voice that is unchained like that, I think would be absolutely outstanding in Wyoming,” Deti said.
Deti said that the effort to defend the mining industries requires an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, which something like Power The Future would be part of.
“We are outgunned, in terms of money and manpower, by the radical environmental movement. And we've got to play catch up on the mining side,” Deti said.
Ashley Burke, vice president of communications for the National Mining Association, is trying to connect the world of mining with the people who she says benefit from all it does every day.
The problem is that mining is not that visible to most people, she said. People get to see employees in all kinds of industries doing their jobs —- from cashiers to construction workers. That’s not the case for the mining industry.
“Nobody gets to see what miners do each day. And that's a pretty powerful thing. I think it's something that our industry really has to overcome,” Burke said during her presentation at the convention.
She’s been producing a video that speaks about working in the mines, with interviews of miners inside the mines, in hopes of giving the public a glimpse of what their lives are like.
“One of the miners grabbed me and said, ‘Thank you so much for doing this, because I've been working down here for 12 years, and my family doesn't know what it looks like to be down here,’” Burke said.
Burke displayed polling data the association has done on people’s perceptions of mining, which she said provide valuable data to policymakers. Only 46% of those surveyed had a favorable view of mining, the poll found, but 30% answered that they didn’t know if it’s good or bad.
Burke said it’s an opportunity, because communicating the benefits of the industry to those who don’t have an opinion could bring them to the side with a favorable view, raising it from 46% to 76%.
Working with the media is a challenge, Burke said. Reporters, especially young ones, are more concerned with “pushing out three stories a day” with little concern about the accuracy of the story.
She said she develops relationships with individual reporters who she knows do care about getting the story right, and she said some of them are at publications that aren’t friendly toward the mining industry.
However, that pool of good reporters is shrinking, Burke said. The younger ones coming into the industry seem less inclined to report mining issues fairly.
Burke said there was a time the association waited for regulations to come out before commenting on them, but under the Biden administration, the expectation is that they’re going to be bad for the industry.
Now it’s being more proactive.
She told Cowboy State Daily the association is working with journalists who it knows will present issues fairly, ahead of the release of reports and regulations, to give them background on what’s at stake.
“We're trying to reach out to reporters in advance who do the research to find out who's been covering things really diligently,” Burke said.
The association is also working with its members to improve their communication efforts. Some are small companies with a single employee who handles public relations, human resources and legal. They don’t always have the ability to manage a complicated media relations situation that can easily be used to put the company at a disadvantage against mining opponents.
“I like to tell all of our members, consider me essentially a PR firm for you,” Burke said.