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Big Coal Gone Wild: Bizarre New Reality Program

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Dissing Dolly. Forging letters to Congress. Jumping out of airplanes. Violently attacking peaceful coalfield mothers and residents. Calling climate change "superstition." Blocking cemetery entrances.

Stand back, Sarah Palin. The antics of Big Coal and its sycophants this past month have all the lurid ingredients of a prime time reality TV program at its most bizarre.

Check out these first episodes.

Part 1: Forging Constituent Letters -- It wasn't enough for the coal industry and utility companies and their hired public relations to peel off a reported $77 million in their pro coal campaigns this year. The Daily Progress reported this week that a lobbying firm in DC went one shameless (and criminal) step further: It stole the letterhead from an advocacy organization in Charlottesville, VA and wrote bogus letters against climate change legislation to US Rep. Tom Perriello. As the Daily Progress reported:

"They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization," said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville's Hispanic community. "It's this type of activity that undermines Americans' faith in democracy."

The Sierra Club's Carl Pope added: "Obviously many more facts need to come out before we know the whole story, but the alleged forgery of letters from organizations dedicated to protecting their communities forces one to question who is really behind the efforts to block America's progress towards a clean energy economy. According to Greenwire/New York Times, in the lead up and aftermath of the House's historic vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act, special interests like Coal Utilities and Oil have poured tens of millions into lobbying to keep America stuck in the past."

For more details, click here.

Part 2: Dissing Dolly -- St. Louis-based Arch Coal celebrated tripled profits last year, but that didn't stop the Midwestern coal giant from whipping up a plan of regional retribution last month after Sen. Benjamin Carden (D-Maryland) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) held the first Senate hearings on the impact of mountaintop removal mining in a generation. In the face of Tennessee's $14 billion tourist industry, and over 11 million tourists to the Great Smokey National Park and region every year, an Arch Coal subsidiary announced that it had told its company's 300 employees in West Virginia to boycott Dolly Parton's Dollywood. A handful of other coal companies tagged along with the boycott idea, which has already backfired.

Not only was this a cheap attack on Appalachia's legendary country singer -- whose Dollywood foundation underwrites an amazing program that provides free books to Appalachian and Midwestern children -- but it exposed St. Louis' Arch Coal's long-time commitment to mountaintop removal's role in ripping out the roots of Appalachian culture and people.

Rob Perks has filed several great blogs on this shameless episode here, here and here.

Part 3: Jumping for Coal -- While over 3.5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel oil explosives rip through his district's mountains EVERY DAY, US Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) didn't bother to do a flyover last month of the destroyed forests and mountains and waterways and historic communities in order to understand the urgent needs and human rights violations in his district, and instead, Rahall agreed to jump out of a plane with the U.S. Army Parachute Team at the Friends of Coal Auto Show in Beckley, WV, to show his support for the coal industry.

Ken Ward had the story at the Coal Tattoo blog.

Part 4: Violent Attacks on Coalfield Residents and Mothers
-- When coalfield residents in the Coal River Valley in West Virginia held a peaceful march and sit-in from Marsh Fork Elementary School -- which sits only football field away from a looming and precarious 2.8 billion coal sludge pond -- to a coal prep plant last month, out-of-state Massey Energy had its union-busted and busting employees on hand to jeer, threaten and physically attack nonviolent Goldman Prize Award winner Judy Bonds, co-director of the Coal River Mountain Watch, whose family served as coal miners for over a century. No one in the Obama administration or West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin's office condemned the violence and alarming threats by thugs. Here's a clip from the attack:

Part 5: Superstition -- Speaking of Massey Energy and violence, CEO Don Blankenship created a stir last spring when he casually grabbed an ABC cameraman's equipment and told him he was liable to be shot if he took a photo. In the meantime, Blankenship, who last month challenged NASA climatologist James Hansen to a debate on coal and climate change and then backed out, just penned a new essay that global warming is a "superstition." The piece is here.

Blankenship's attack on the ABC cameraman is here.

Part 6: Killing the Dead -- And finally, to let the dead bury the dead, volunteers hurried to protect a historic cemetery of a Union Civil War soldier from mountaintop removal operations in West Virginia this month, as a coal company wrongfully blocked the access road to the cemetery up James Creek.

The story is here.

And volunteers sent in this footage of their clearing of the road.

Stay tuned for Big Coal's upcoming episodes.

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