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Jeff Biggers Headshot

Obama Appointments: Time for a Coal-Onoscopy

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On the 40th anniversary of the Farmington coal mine disaster, when the tragic loss of 78 coal miners in West Virginia ultimately forced a begrudging President Richard Nixon to sign a long overdue Federal Coal Mine Health & Safety Act of 1969, I hope President-elect Barack Obama's transition team takes time for a coal-onoscopy of potential candidates before making any appointments to the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Department of Labor.

If President-elect Obama is truly serious about affecting climate change, launching a new green economy, and insuring environmental protection and mine workplace safety, then we must end the appointment of coal and other extraction industry executives -- and their lawyers, lobbyists and sycophants -- to high ranking roles in these departments.

Over the past decades, coal miners, coalfield communities and their fellow fishing-hunting-bird loving-environmentalists alike have understood the devastating consequences of placing extraction industry operatives into official positions at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Office of Surface Mining, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The rollback and neglect of workplace safety and environmental regulations have been disastrous.

Disasters at Crandall Canyon, Utah and Sago, West Virginia are not old headlines, but daily reminders of oversight.

Black lung disease, currently on the rise, is not part of the past, but a present reality.

Relentless stripmining in the form of mountaintop removal in Appalachia or the fertile farms of the Midwest has wiped out some of our continent's most diverse forests and oldest inhabited communities.

Jurassic-era coal-fired plants continue to spew a fountain of mercury and carbon dioxide emissions that will ultimately decide our climate destabilization fates.

Despite millions of dollars of corporate advertising, the slogan of "clean coal" still remains a dangerous and unrealistic option for the future .

After 150 years of carrying the burden of extraction industries, coalfield communities in Appalachia and the Midwest now deserve to be the first recipients of any green economy and green jobs programs, including retraining, rebuilding, and the development of wind, solar and geothermal sources of energy. This will not happen if the incoming administration doesn't first vet the coal industry backgrounds of key players.

Bottom line: There will be no true climate change policies, sustainable green jobs and communities, workplace safety and environmental protection as long as we continue to appoint corporate hacks who place the concerns of coal executives first.

On a cold December day before Congress in 1862, Abraham Lincoln declared:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

President-elect Obama's transition team needs to disenthrall our government departments from the grip of the coal industry.

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