West Virginia names coal as its official state rock


The black bear, the Golden Delicious apple, and Monongahela silt loam now have a new member in their ranks. Last week, West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin signed a House of Delegates resolution adding coal to the list of official state symbols.

The resolution, which was introduced by 46 sponsors and passed by a vote of 96 to 0, notes that the coal industry is an "integral part of the economic and social fabric of the state" and that "Bituminous Coal is hereby designated and declared to be the official state rock."

The resolution makes no mention of coal's other varieties – lignite, anthracite, and graphite – suggesting that they will continue to be classified by the state as nonofficial rocks.

According to  a press release from the West Virginia Coal Association, the effort to have the Carboniferous mineral deposits granted official status originated with Britnee Gibson, a high school senior in Wharncliffe, W.Va.

As part of a project for a regional school fair backed by the industry group, Ms. Gibson compiled the required 2,500 signatures to place the measure before the state legislature.

"I realized the state didn't have an official state rock," Gibson said in the press release, "and I thought, what better to be the state rock than coal."

The release notes that Gibson's father, Dwain, is a diesel mechanic for a coal hauling company.

West Virginia, the nation's second largest coal producer, is not alone its designation of the fossil fuel. Kentucky and Utah also count coal among their state symbols. Wyoming, which produces the most coal among US states, does not have a state rock (although it does have a state fossil: the Knightia, a prehistoric ancestor of the herring).

In any case, environmentalists tend to take a dim view of coal, because of the huge amounts of poisonous waste created by mining it and the air pollution and greenhouse gases emitted by burning it. Currently, coal accounts for about half of human-caused atmospheric increases in carbon dioxide, more than any other fossil fuel.

Writing for the eco-news website Grist, David Roberts argues that coal hasn't been particularly great for West Virginia's economy, either. He notes that the state ranks last in household median income, educational services, and social assistance.

Mr. Roberts's argument is supported by data from the environmental advocacy group Appalachian Voices, which noted a significant correlation between surface mining and poverty rates in Appalachia.

The governor's signing of the resolution was not the first time the Democratic governor rankled environmentalists with tweaks to the state's symbolism. In 2005, he changed the welcome signs along roads leading into the state.

The signs, which formerly read "Welcome to Wild, Wonderful West Virginia" were changed to read, "West Virginia: Open for Business."

[Hat tip: Kate Galbraith of the New York Times's  Green Inc. blog]

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