Dirty Coal and the Politics of Violence

Tonight there will be a “debate” at the University of Charleston between Don Blankenship and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.  This AP story characterizes the issue as “what’s at stake if the U.S. government restricts the efficient, cost-effective practice of extracting coal by flat-topping mountains and filling valleys with excess material.” The AP has begged the question at issue and come down on the side of violence.

Mountaintop removal is only “efficient [and] cost-effective” if many of the costs are ignored. At issue in southern West Virginia are the environmental, health, and human costs – air and water polluted, mountains leveled, communities destroyed.  Many of these costs were documented in an unprecedented article by 11 scientists in Science this month, which follows a long series of studies which identified the harms from mountaintop removal.

There is constant violence in southern West Virginia:  blasting the mountains, slow disease and death from pollution, and intimidation in the coal communities. Tonight’s debate will undoubtedly be packed with young miners in working gear, bussed in by their employers to shout down and intimidate in a show of force.   There will undoubtedly be coal trucks driving by blasting air horns.  I had a West Virginia state delegate tell me last month, in a public meeting, that legislators, especially those from southern West Virginia, would not vote for restrictions on coal mining “because they would be shot.” Worse than the destruction of the mountains is the rule of violence and intimidation to allow a few coal owners and managers to continue to profit.

The “debate” will be covered live on West Virginia television stations; if you are elsewhere, it will be streaming on the web at http://www.wowktv.com, http://www.wboy.com, http://www.wtrf.com, http://www.wvnstv.com, and http://www.wsaz.com, and audio at West Virginia Public Radio.