Overweight coal trucks have been a problem in West Virginia for years. Trucks weighing nearly 200,000 pounds have been weighed on roads in the southern coalfields. As coal trucks have become heavier, they have become more of a hazard to innocent bystanders. Since January of 2000, at least 18 people have been killed in accidents involving coal trucks.
(See sidebar for various citation and accident data). In addition they cost West Virginia taxpayers millions of dollars in road and bridge repairs.
In the summer of 2002, a West Virginia Division of Highways engineer told Governor Wise's work group studying overweight coal trucks, that the cost to upgrade the state's roads to handle heavier loads would amount to $6.5 billion. Raising coal truck weight limits is a bad idea, not only financially, but also in terms of public safety. Heavier trucks take longer to stop, are more likely to roll over and are harder to control.
The problem with overweight coal trucks can largely be attributed to a lack of enforcement. A 2002 report by the West Virginia Division of Highways found that the state's "current laws and policies dealing with enforcement of highway weight limits are almost self-defeating" and "are not seriously designed to deter overloads." Law enforcement has been so lax, that operators are purchasing newer trucks that are overweight even when empty.
West Virginia Citizen Action is proud to be a part of the ad hoc coalition against raising coal truck weight limits, which scored a major victory during the July 2002 special session. We joined forces with Coal River Mountain Watch, the
Ohio Valley Environmental
Coalition, Citizens Coal Council, We the People, the United Mine Workers and others to defeat a bill to raise legal truck weights. In perhaps the most dramatic legislative moments in a generation, truck weight increase opponents passed and amendment offered by Delegate Mike Caputo that struck down the governor's proposal of an increase to 120,000 pounds for West Virginia coal trucks. The suspense was incredible and in the end 48 delegates voted for Caputo's amendment and 47 voted against. It was coal's most visible defeat in our memory.
Since then the coal industry has continued to call for a near doubling of the current legal limit on coal trucks and during the 2003 legislative session, our democracy was dealt yet another blow, as the legislature passed and Governor Wise signed SB 583, which raises the legal weight limit for coal trucks to 126,000 pounds on soon to-be designated coal haul roads. They did this in spite of overwhelming public opposition. This irresponsible sell-out to the coal industry is a perfect example of elected officials ignoring the public good in favor of special interests.
The Senate passed the bill on a 21 to 37 vote. The House of Delegates defeated an amendment offered by Delegate Caputo that would have maintained existing weight limits and passed the measure on a 56 to 43 vote. A
March 2003 report released by the People's Election Reform Coalition (PERC) revealed that senators voting for the bill received $88,581 in campaign contributions from the coal industry. Senators who opposed the legislation received only $27,400. House members who voted for the weight increase received a total of $104,660 from the coal industry in 2002. Delegates who voted against SB 583 received only $23,545.
PERC also revealed that Governor Wise raised over $70,000 at a fundraiser in March of 2002 while the legislature was debating increasing the weight limits for coal trucks. Most of those contributions came from coal companies, coal haulers and land companies. Wise received $20,500 from employees and spouses of Riverton Coal and its parent company RAG Coal International. This is the largest single-day giving PERC has seen from any corporation since it began monitoring campaign financing in 1996. A review of the Governor's most recent financial disclosure statement filed with the Secretary of State's office shows that coal has continued to curry favor with the administration, contributing another $92,000 to the Wise campaign since March 2002.
The coal industry made out pretty good on their investment. They have had their illegal activities decriminalized and they got off cheap compared to the billions it will cost West Virginia taxpayers to repair and maintain the roads. But even though we have lost the battle we must continue to the fight. West Virginia Citizen Action Group will continue to work closely with Coal River Mountain Watch, the
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and others to monitor the coal haul road designation process and keep you informed.
House of Delegates Roll Call on the Caputo Amendment to
March 6, 2003
House of Delegates Roll Call on SB583
March 7, 2003
WV State Senate Roll
Call on SB 583
February 28, 2003
House Vote On Coal Truck Weight Amendment
For the latest on the overweight coal truck issue, read WV-CAG's newsletter, Capital
Eye, and check CAG News and action
For those of you who want to e-mail Governor
Wise on the overweight coal truck issue, you can do so at:
Or you can call at 558-2000 or 1-888-438-2731 (toll-free).
For your friends and family who live outside West Virginia. Ask them to
send a postcard to Governor Wise telling him you won't visit West Virginia and (spend your tourist dollars) until he enforces the weight limits and stops trying to raise them. Go to the Citizens Coal Council website at
www.citizenscoalcouncil.org. Click on
Act Now on the left.