Coal miners, community members rally on capitol steps against coal bill |

Coal miners, community members rally on capitol steps against coal bill

Brian Smith
Tony St. John, a Craig resident and retired coal miner, reacts to a speaker at a rally on the west steps of the state capitol in Denver. The rally, organized to protest Colorado House Bill 10-1365, featured several speakers from Northwest Colorado and the coal industry.
Brian Smith

DENVER — Craig resident and retired coal miner Tony St. John had a message Thursday for Gov. Bill Ritter when he began his speech at a rally on the west steps of the state capitol in Denver.

“Shame on you,” he said. “Shame on you with (Colorado) House Bill 10-1365 and shame on … those legislators that voted for it.”

St. John then asked the crowd of about 150 people to join him in sharing that message.

“If you would all look up there with me, and on the count of three say ‘Shame on you,” he said pointing to the capitol building.

St. John was one of several speakers representing Northwest Colorado and the coal industry at a rally protesting Colorado House Bill 10-1365, also known as the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act.

Many of the 150 people at the rally wore clothing advocating for clean coal technology and waived signs with messages such as “Xcel gain = our loss,” and “Save west slope jobs.”

St. John said state legislators “never” think of the Western Slope when making decisions.

“They only think about the Western Slope when they need us,” he said. “Whatever they need, they’ll come to us and kiss us really sweet.”

Craig resident Lynne Herring spoke at the rally about the impacts the bill could have on her family’s small business.

Herring said the bill could force her business to lose half its customers.

“Our business is standing on the line because of what they are doing,” she said.

Herring also said she was “just plain tired of being lied to.”

“This has nothing to do with clean jobs,” she said. “This has nothing to do with clean air. This has to do with money. They are taking money out of my pocket and your pocket and this is not right.”

When Moffat County Commissioner Tom Mathers spoke, he made no secret of his stance on the bill.

“My choice is coal,” he said, receiving cheers and applause from the crowd.

Mathers urged those at the rally to testify to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission about how they will be impacted by the bill.

“You can complain about … how you are going to be on welfare, (but) they don’t care,” he said of the PUC. “They’re here just to listen to how a rate increase is going to affect you.

“When you go down and talk to them, tell them about losing your jobs, but don’t forget to tell them, ‘How can I pay a larger rate increase if I don’t have a job?’”

Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson led his speech to the rally by reminding residents “that mining built this state.”

“Do you think that this legislature and the governor cared about your jobs?” he asked people at the rally.

The crowd responded by shouting, “No.”

“You are right and that is unfortunate,” Sanderson said.

Sanderson said he was glad the rally was held in the sunshine on the capitol steps.

“It is about time to bring Colorado’s laws, to bring the Public Utilities Commission, to bring Xcel Energy, make them come out in the sunshine and do business,” he said.

As the rally finished, many of the attendees crossed the street to listen to a rally in support of the bill.

In the back of the crowd stood Ryan Venzke, a coal miner at Twentymile Coal Co.

“It’s a joke,” he said looking at a group of people wearing surgical masks and yellow shirts with the message “beyond coal” printed on them.

“The jobs they say they are creating, they’re not,” he said.

Venzke said if he could get behind the podium, he would tell the bill’s supporters they should pay more attention “to where the backbone of the state is.”

Clay Copeland, a coal miner from Twentymile, also watched the bill’s supportive rally.

Copeland said he thought much of their message was misleading.

“I think they are covering up the actual … facts with this clean air thing,” he said. “They are playing on something that they can pull people in (with) and not the truth.”

Moreover, the crowd of supporters made Copeland confused, he said.

“Why (do) people all the time complain about not being told the truth, yet so many people continue to tell lies?” he said.

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