What if you threw an energy conference, and somebody else threw a funeral?
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s three-day energy conference kicks off Monday at the Richmond Convention Center and environmentalists will be there — not inside the building, but outside, staging a mock funeral for more than 60 Virginia mountains lost to mountaintop coal mining.
“Mourners will carry a casket and placards representing mountains lost, accompanied by a bagpiper [and] a funeral procession around the Convention Center,” according to a notice from the Sierra Club’s Virginia chapter.
The demonstration, planned for 6 p.m., is intended to draw attention to what the Sierra Club called “the pro-coal focus” of the conference, which includes appearances by Dominion Resources CEO Thomas Farrell and Alpha Natural Resources Chief Executive Michael Quillen.
It is also meant to highlight a pending permit for mountaintop coal mining for Ison Rock Ridge in Wise County. Virginia’s Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy has reviewed a permit application from A & G Coal and will sign off on it so long as the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers give their approvals, said Gavin Bledsoe, acting director of the department’s Division of Mined Land Reclamation.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin disputed the “pro-coal” characterization the conference, which begins with an address by former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, a past EPA administrator and co-chair of the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition. He said renewable energy and conservation will play “outsized roles” at the conference, which begins just a few days after McDonnell announced that a facility for testing and certifying wind turbines for offshore and land-based electricity production would be located on Virginia's Eastern Shore in Northampton County.
“I guess this falls under the category of never letting the facts get in the way of a good protest,” Martin said in an e-mail. “Renewable sources of energy provide approximately 2.8% of electricity generated in Virginia. Yet at the Governor’s Energy Conference, nearly 50% (11 of 24) of the formal sessions will focus on renewable sources of energy and energy conservation. So, rhetoric by some aside, the fact is renewable energy and energy conservation will actually have outsized roles in this conference.”