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Coal Baron Don Blankenship's Crazy Talk on Climate Change

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"Turn on more lights, burn more coal."      -- Don Blankenship

Don Blankenship is the CEO of Massey Energy, the largest coal producer in Appalachia and the most notorious perpetrator of mountaintop removal mining.  Mr. Blankenship, known as "the scariest polluter in America," makes millions of dollars overseeing the destruction of America's oldest mountains in the region where he himself was born. 

Perhaps Blankenship's extreme wealth is why Forbes magazine decided to interview him.  But what shines through more than anything is Blankenship's extreme anti-environmental worldview.  In short, it may come as no surprise to learn that this unabashed coal baron adamantly opposes any regulation intended to protect clean air and water, let alone to address climate change -- the existence of which Don steadfastly refuses to believe.   

If you can stomach it, read the full interview which was published yesterday.  But I've chosen to excerpt Blankenship's answers and to provide a succinct rebuttal -- or reality check. 

Don on climate policy: 

I don't know how we let the enviros and the humanitarians off the hook, that they continue to stymie the development of other countries.  You've got people dying of preventable disease every day, and yet we're getting ready to spend billions of dollars on climate change.

The irony is as thick as coal dust.  In essence, Blankenship is defending the destruction of Appalachia's environment and justifying the poisoning of local residents by trying to argue that the dirty coal reaped (raped?) from America's oldest mountain range is fueling progress in other countries.  He clearly has no qualms about how mountaintop removal is harming the health of his fellow Americans living in the coalfields. 

Consider this: coal processing leaves behind billions of gallons of toxic waste -- called "sludge" -- that includes selenium, as well as other dangerous chemicals.  This toxic stew is typically "stored" in unlined earthen structures called slurry dams or injected underground, often into abandoned underground coal mines.  These toxins seep into the ground water of nearby communities.  A recent blockbuster story by the New York Times detailed the dangers of drinking water in Appalachia that is polluted by mining waste.  The article profiled West Virginia, Blankenship's native state, where people try to avoid any contact with tap water, which causes painful rashes and scabs and dissolves childrens' teeth.  Tests there show alarming levels of lead, nickel, arsenic and other contaminants that federal regulators say could contribute to cancer and damage the kidneys and nervous system.  Maybe Don should travel to the town of Prenter Hollow, where a health survey found that 98% of adults interviewed in the area have gallbladder disease.  And don't forget that coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.  

Don on cutting carbon pollution: 

I think it's all a hoax and a Ponzi scheme.  I can't find any logic to the fact that the climate is actually changing any more because of man than it would without man.

  

Denial ain't just a river fast-drying up in Egypt.  It's ridiculous these days to take any global warming skeptic seriously.  I mean, who are you gonna believe, Don Blankenship or your lying eyes?  (Pull on your high-waters and watch out for melting glaciers.)  Put aside the motives of a man who makes his living off an industry that profits at the planet's expense.  The debate over climate change is over and the science is indisputable.  Just last week new analysis by climate scientists reveals that global temperatures are now expected to rise by 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century.  This rapid warming trend is far faster than the forecast just two years ago by the Nobel Prize-winning U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  In fact, the predicted increase is nearly double what scientists say is the upper limit of warming the world can afford in order to avert catastrophic climate change.  I hereby invoke John McEnroe to respectfully counter Big Coal's biggest booster: "You cannot be serious!"

Don on Forbes ranking West Virginia at the bottom of the list of greenest states:

You've constantly got hyperbole in the press, and you've got the government trying, because of their belief in climate change, to drive up the costs and increase the bad press, so it's really hard to overcome it.  I find it odd that the environmental movement says that the area [West Virginia] has to be protected as one of the most pristine ... diversified forests in the world.  We've been mining there for 110 years, and if we didn't destroy it under the previous laws, we certainly aren't going to destroy it under the current ones.

Whoa.  For a man who hails from Appalachia, he sure is disconnected from the region's heritage, which is based on a every mountaineer's deep-seated love of and respect for the land.  In short, this area of the country is known as one of the most biologically diverse places in the world -- rich in lush forests, teaming with wildlife, and brimming with some of the cleanest waterways in America.  Clearly, underground mining is not the most benign activity but it pales in comparison to the devastation caused by using explosives and heavy machinery to flatten entire mountain peaks and then dump the waste into waterways. 

As West Virginia biologist Ben Stout explains

It's a complete change, from one of the most diverse and productive forest ecosystems on the planet to a grassland that's nowhere to be found naturally in the southern Appalachians.  Whole lineages, like the mayflies, are basically disappearing because they can't tolerate the conditions.  Migratory birds from South America, their breeding places are rapidly disappearing from southern West Virginia. 

And as Appalachian native Jeff Biggers adds:

The abuse of the land has always gone hand in hand with the abuse of the people ... Mountaintop removal is not simply about 'minimizing the adverse environmental impacts' or the fact that the practice has destroyed 500 extraordinary mountains and over a million acres of hardwood deciduous forests in our nation's carbon sink of Appalachia.  It has also ripped out the roots of one of our nation's vital mountain cultures -- the very arena of so much social change and innovation that has shaped our country -- and effectively removed important chapters of the Appalachian and American experience from our memory.

 

You can never go home again, Don, mainly because you're hell-bent on wiping away any trace of it.

Don on the benefits of coal: 

[T]he only way this country can be energy independent or actually even have homeland security is to turn to coal.  We have more coal than the Middle East has in oil.  Coal can create the wealth in this country that funds the Manhattan Project on the next generation of energy.  But as long as we're wasting such huge amounts of money on renewables and nonsense...we're not going to have those funds.

If America is the Saudia Arabia of coal, then I'm the George Clooney of the environmental movement.  The fact is, the supply of coal is dwindling faster than most people realize -- particularly here in the U.S.  Regardless, all fossil fuel will run out sooner than later whereas clean power generated from the wind, sun and geothermal won't ever run out, nor will it cook the planet.  And as for supposed wealth generated by coal, why is it that Appalachian coalfied counties are among the poorest in the nation?  According to a study by West Virginia University researcher Michael Hendryx, "Coal-mining economies are weaker than the rest of the state, weaker than the rest of the region, and weaker than the rest of the nation."  The study revealed that the coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region, yet it costs $42 billion a year. 

With the U.S. Senate about to take up clean energy and climate legislation, the pressure will be intense to dirty up the bill in ways that benefit the fossil fools crowd.  But the urgency of the climate crisis means that we simply cannot afford the same old dirty business as usual.  We must break the stranglehold that has allowed Big Coal (as well as Big Oil and the Nuke Boys) to dictate America's energy policy.  Such stale, short-sighted energy policies will hurt our economy and our environment and leave all of us stuck paying too much to heat our homes and to fill our tanks. However, investments in renewable energy alternatives will pay dividends in the creation of new jobs, cuts in our energy bills, and a decrease in oil dependence.

More jobs, less pollution and greater energy security.  That's common-sense, not nonsense.  

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

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