Issues End Corporate Rule Stop Global Warming Obama’s ‘war on coal’ doesn’t exist
Monday, 02 June 2014 16:42

Obama’s ‘war on coal’ doesn’t exist

Written by  Jeff Biggers | Aljazeera America

Specious slogans dominate key midterm Senate battles in Appalachia, burying West Virginia coal chemical disaster

On Monday, President Barack Obama is expected to announce a new Environmental Protection Agency regulation to cut CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants by 30 percent, setting a cap that will require states to trade or shift toward clean energy alternatives. U.S. Senate candidates in pivotal coal-producing Appalachian states, however, have already fired the opening salvo in the next battle over dirty coal.

Rather than advocating clean energy independence, Republican and Democratic candidates alike are doubling down in defense of Big Coal with a wildly inaccurate “war on coal” rallying call, just in time for the midterm elections. Their bogus claim: Overreaching federal regulations are killing coal jobs.

Central Appalachia is a crucible for the midterms, as a recent Washington Post headline (“Why Senate control could hinge on Democratic opposition to the ‘war on coal’”) posited. For Senate hopefuls running in traditionally coal-friendly states such as West Virginia and Kentucky, painting Obama as anti-coal is practically a prerequisite, regardless of party affiliation.

Such pro-coal stances come only five months after the West Virginia coal chemical disaster, which exposed massive regulatory failures and subjected 300,000 Charleston residents to an endless game of drinking-water roulette with 10,000 gallons of toxic contaminants. One might think these candidates would retire the overblown rhetoric, address the region’s mounting health concerns and even offer ideas for Appalachia’s much-needed transition toward a clean energy economy.

But listening to some of the primary victory speeches, you wouldn’t have suspected that January’s disaster, which cost West Virginia more than $60 million, was the state’s fifth such major industrial accident in eight years. Only a few weeks ago, two coal miners died in a violation-riddled mine. Growing evidence suggests that the toxic fallout from mountaintop removal mining might be one of the worst health care emergencies in the nation. And a key climate change study released last month issued another urgent call to combat the primary cause of global warming — “human activities, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels.”

So let’s call it right: We’re in the throes of a war on coal mining communities and our climate — not on Big Coal.

“For years and years, I’ve listened as the coal companies told our political leaders they’d better not support mine-safety laws, they’d better not support black-lung protections and they’d better not vote for laws to protect our precious water,” third-generation disabled coal miner Carl Shoupe wrote in an op-ed — “Tired of Big Coal telling our pols what to do” — earlier this spring for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

In Turkey, last month’s coal mining tragedy has resulted in widespread protests against the government, especially when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan implied that such explosions were common, casually drawing a comparison to England’s 19th century coal disasters.

But in Kentucky, West Virginia and even the coal country of Democratic-controlled Illinois, a similar time warp — led by politicians caught between misinformed nostalgia, a failed reality check on the ailing coal industry and the powerful mining lobby — has prevented the region from addressing coal’s indisputable role in climate change (and its untenable health and environmental costs) during election cycles.

West Virginia’s coal chemical disaster notwithstanding, this year’s midterm elections might be the worst worst-case scenario yet. Take the verbal war stewing between U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the senior Republican from Kentucky, and his Democratic opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky’s secretary of state.

“A vote for my opponent is a vote for a guy who says coal makes you sick,” McConnell said, linking Grimes to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., during his primary victory speech.

Not to be outdone, Grimes shot back. “I don’t agree with the president’s war on coal. I think it’s wrong for Kentucky,” she said during her own victory speech, railing against the Environmental Protection Agency with a fervor that would make a lobbyist with the National Mining Association blush. “It’s on Mitch McConnell’s watch, not mine, that overburdensome regulations have been imposed upon the commonwealth of Kentucky.”

As long as residents’ voices are overpowered by the relentless ‘war on coal’ ads bankrolled by out-of-state coal industry lobby fronts, change must come from the EPA and the White House.

Regardless of whose watch it was, coal country veterans noted the absence of concern for mining safety from either side — and the bad timing of the remarks. The May 20 victory fell on the anniversary of the reckless 2006 Kentucky Darby mine disaster, which the Mine Safety and Health Administration ruled “occurred because the operator did not observe basic mine safety practices.

“As I watched McConnell’s speech last night, I could not help thinking about my grandfather, gasping for his last breath,” wrote Bob Kincaid, a West Virginia–based radio broadcaster and longtime critic of mountaintop removal, in a reference to black lung disease, which still kills three coal miners daily. “Thousands of people in Appalachia have a memory similar to mine,” he added. “McConnell apparently has no such memory.”

And here’s another reality check. As members of Appalachia’s mining communities have noted for years, Kentucky and West Virginia had lost nearly two-thirds of their coal mining jobs long before Obama entered the White House, thanks to heavily mechanized operations and a shift to large-scale strip mining or mountaintop removal mining.

In other words, Obama is not waging a “war on coal.” The front lines have simply shifted to the heartland and the expanding operations in the West. Appalachian coal production will continue to decline in the coming years, but this is because former West Virginia coal barons such as Chris Cline are moving their operations to the cheaper Illinois Basin, where production is booming, and because natural gas fracking operations are on the rise. In fact, coal production remains stable under Obama — projected even to increase by 4 percent in 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration.

But you wouldn’t know that from listening to this year’s candidates. In West Virginia’s U.S. Senate race, facts about the recent chemical spill have been trumped by specious “war on coal” slogans. Both candidates are running against Obama’s energy and environmental policies with a vengeance.

Democratic candidate and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant has vowed to “protect today’s coal jobs from EPA regulations,” while Republican challenger Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, backed by the mining lobby, has prioritized “ending the war on coal.”

Four years ago, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., issued his clarion call for Appalachia and the coal industry to “embrace the future,” adding later that people, not coal, “are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.”

Byrd’s call found scant reception in the campaign war rooms, but its sentiment has continued to spread across Appalachia. Kentuckians electrified such hopes for change in 2010 when a regional grassroots movement for “New Power” compelled the East Kentucky Power Cooperative to halt plans to build two coal-burning power plants in Clark County and explore both job-creating energy efficiency programs and renewable energy options.

And in February, one poll found that an astounding 73 percent of West Virginia residents felt the state “has paid too little attention to addressing threats to air and water,” and that “things must change.”

As long as those voices are overpowered by the relentless “war on coal” ads bankrolled by out-of-state coal industry lobby fronts, change must come from the EPA and the White House.

At least, that is, until a new era of candidates in West Virginia, Kentucky and even Illinois finally provides the leadership to speak up about a just transition to “new power” initiatives for clean energy jobs and development during elections and put the worn-out, misleading slogans of the coal wars to rest.

Jeff Biggers is the author of “Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland,” among other books. His website is

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy. 

Original article on Aljazeera America

Read 3142 times

End Corporate Rule

  • Democrats Introduce Bill that Could Lead to Impeachment for Justices Thomas and Scalia
    Democrats Introduce Bill that Could Lead to Impeachment for Justices Thomas and Scalia

    On Thursday, a group of Democratic lawmakers proposed a law to establish a Code of Conduct  for the Supreme Court.

    It’s surely to have Supreme Court Justices Thomas and Scalia quaking in their Tea Party boots because it would mean they would actually have to be independent of political and other influences. They would also have to have the appearance of independence.  They would have to stay away from political activity. That part would be really hard.

    Written on Sunday, 06 July 2014 14:47
  • California makes an official call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention to overturn Citizens United
    California makes an official call for a U.S. Constitutional Convention to overturn Citizens United

    On June 23rd the State Senate passed AJR 1, making California the second state in the union to officially call for an Article V constitutional convention for the sole purpose of passing a United States constitutional amendment that would effectively overturn Citizens United v. FEC and limit the corrupting influence of money in our electoral process.

    Written on Thursday, 26 June 2014 13:29
  • New Organization Hangs Sign: 'Whistleblowers Welcome'
    New Organization Hangs Sign: 'Whistleblowers Welcome'

    A new organization called ExposeFacts—backed by well-known source of The Pentagon Papers Daniel Ellsberg—is debuting itself in Washington, DC on Wednesday as a new place where government and corporate employees aware of wrongdoing can more safely and securely report their concerns.

    Written on Sunday, 08 June 2014 13:54
  • 'Astroturf' Groups Leading Drive to Kill Open Internet
    'Astroturf' Groups Leading Drive to Kill Open Internet

    The telecommunications industry is creating and funding front groups which pose as consumer organizations and aggressively lobby to kill net neutrality, journalist Lee Fang revealed in an article published in Vice on Friday.

    Written on Sunday, 08 June 2014 13:39
  • John Oliver Calls on Angry Internet Trolls to Save Net Neutrality (video)
    John Oliver Calls on Angry Internet Trolls to Save Net Neutrality (video)

    It’s a sad state of affairs when a country that touts freedom of the press depends upon cable TV comedy shows to hear the real news.

    Written on Friday, 06 June 2014 04:19
  • Oligarchy Enshrined
    Oligarchy Enshrined

    Why the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon ruling is good news for the super-rich and bad news for progressive Democrats.

    At the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference, a conservative election lawyer and a baby-faced electrical engineer from Alabama with a made-for-TV Southern drawl began plotting how to unravel federal campaign finance regulations.

    Written on Tuesday, 20 May 2014 01:21
  • Lincoln Didn't Fight the Civil War to Free the Corporations - Video
    Lincoln Didn't Fight the Civil War to Free the Corporations - Video

    This is an idea worth spreading - so - please watch & share with 5 or 10 friends. It’s important to get money out of politics and the average person back in. Also - leave a message on the YouTube and let TED know - this is one of the most important issues of the day."

    Written on Thursday, 15 May 2014 17:16
  • Out of the Shadows: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    Out of the Shadows: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce

    The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is, as they boast on its website, the world's largest business organization, as well as the nation's largest corporate lobbying group. It is also a recipient of some of the largest amounts of so-called "dark" money in the country, refusing to disclose to the public its donors or even the amounts it receives. 

    Written on Tuesday, 29 April 2014 15:56
  • Bernie Sanders Raises Battle Cry Against Citizens United: "I Vote for Democracy!"
    Bernie Sanders Raises Battle Cry Against Citizens United: "I Vote for Democracy!"

    Citizens United is not just the default reference for US Supreme Court decisions—including the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling—that have ushered in a new era of corporate dominance of American elections. It’s the name of the conservative group that encouraged Chief Justice John Roberts and the most activist Court majority in American history to tear the heart out of what were already weak campaign finance laws.

    Written on Sunday, 13 April 2014 04:24
  • Local protests held in response to Supreme Court donation ruling
    Local protests held in response to Supreme Court donation ruling

    PITTSFIELD -- Their signs read "Get Big Money Out of Politics," "Democracy Is Not For Sale" and "This Is What Plutocracy Looks Like." About a dozen of them stood in Park Square on Wednesday evening, one of 130 "rapid response events" coordinated nationwide to protest that morning's Supreme Court decision in McCutcheon v. FEC.    

    Written on Friday, 04 April 2014 14:38
  • With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy
    With McCutcheon Ruling, An Activist Court Opts for Full-On Plutocracy

    Any doubts about the determination of an activist United States Supreme Court to rewrite election rules so that the dollar matters more than the vote were removed Wednesday, when McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission was decided in favor of the dollar.

    Written on Wednesday, 02 April 2014 22:24
  • TPM Interview: The Brown Grad Student Who Chased The NRA Out Of Rhode Island
    TPM Interview: The Brown Grad Student Who Chased The NRA Out Of Rhode Island

    Sam Bell is in the third year of a PhD program in geology at Brown University. Geology as in rocks. But Bell also moonlights as the the state coordinator of The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, the state affiliate of the 10-year-old Progressive Democrats of America. And in his work with The Rhode Island Progressive Democrats, Bell was instrumental to the investigation that ultimately led to the National Rifle Association paying the second largest campaign finance fine in the state's history.

    Written on Thursday, 27 February 2014 22:13
  • Thank a Postal Worker This Holiday Season
    Thank a Postal Worker This Holiday Season

    Postal workers are giving it their all this holiday season, as cards and packages and returns must be collected and delivered amidst ice storms, snowstorms and wild temperature drops.

    They deserve our thanks in 2013.

    And our support in 2014.

    Written on Thursday, 26 December 2013 23:49
  • Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies
    Fast Food Giants Gorge on Subsidies

    Thanks to a loophole that subsidizes CEO pay, McDonald's, Yum Brands, Wendy's, Burger King, Domino's, and Dunkin' Brands trimmed $64 million from their tax bills in 2011 and 2012.

    The fast food industry is notorious for handing out lean paychecks to their burger flippers and fat ones to their CEOs. What’s less well-known is that taxpayers are actually subsidizing fast food incomes at both the bottom — and top — of the industry.

    Written on Monday, 02 December 2013 23:07
  • This Thanksgiving, Let's Celebrate AgriCULTURE, Not AgriBUSINESS
    This Thanksgiving, Let's Celebrate AgriCULTURE, Not AgriBUSINESS

    In December 1972, I was part of a nationwide campaign that came tantalizingly close to getting the U.S. Senate to reject Earl Butz, Richard Nixon's choice for secretary of agriculture. A coalition of grass-roots farmers, consumers and scrappy public interest organizations (like the Agribusiness Accountability Project that Susan DeMarco and I then headed) teamed up with some gutsy, unabashedly progressive senators to undertake the almost impossible challenge of defeating the cabinet nominee of a president who'd just been elected in a landslide.

    Written on Friday, 29 November 2013 00:06
  • Arizona Democratic Party Shows Its Progressive Side at State Committee Meeting
    Arizona Democratic Party Shows Its Progressive Side at State Committee Meeting

    Progressive voices were heard loud and clear at Saturday’s Arizona Democratic Party (ADP) State Committee Meeting in Maricopa, Arizona.

    Unlike some past ADP meetings where progressives were ignored or where progressive resolutions were tabled and not heard by the full ADP membership, the Maricopa meeting was dominated by progressives.

    Written on Monday, 18 November 2013 20:09
  • Can Public Banking Spur Economic Growth in Southern Arizona?
    Can Public Banking Spur Economic Growth in Southern Arizona?

    Tucson is one of the most impoverished cities in the country—for many reasons. The Arizona Legislature—driven by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and short-sighted, “small government” ideology—has routinely swept funds earmarked for counties and cities to “balance” the state’s budget or fund pet projects like lower corporate taxes. Beyond the Legislature’s negative impact on Baja Arizona, the Tucson economy is not diversified enough. Manufacturing is nearly non-existent in Southern Arizona. There is an over-reliance on defense spending, University of Arizona spin-offs, tourism, low-wage service jobs, and growth/development. 

    Written on Friday, 15 November 2013 15:56

Sign the TPP Fast Track Petitions Petition - Congress Don't Renew Fast Track

Public Citizen Petition - Congress Must Reject Fast Track Authority Petition - Stop the Trans Pacific Partnership

CREDO Petition - Stop the Massive Corporate Power Grab


Find Your Elected Officials for Issues

Enter your zip+4 and find your elected officials. This link provides name, address and phone number



Progressive Central Panel on Ending Corporate Rule

Ask Bill Moyers How to Overturn Citizens United