Kennedy said coal operators are only able to compete in the world energy market by shifting onto society the costs of the pollution, workplace safety and climate change impacts of their product. ‘All of these costs are imposed on the rest of us,’ Kennedy said. ‘We should have free markets with no subsidies. If we did that, there is no way your industry could compete.'”
“When you criticise what we do as an industry, you are criticising the people that are teaching your Sunday school, that are coaching your little league,” Blankenship said, folksily. Worryingly for Kennedy, it got the loudest applause.
Excerpt via Grist via Huffington Post:
Crossposted from Grist.org
On Thursday the University of Charleston in West Virginia hosted a debate between Don Blankenship, CEO of mountaintop-removal mining firm Massey Energy Co., and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., environmental lawyer and founder of the Waterkeeper Alliance. I kept up a running play-by-play that can be accessed by scrolling back through my Twitter feed, but I didn’t take notes, so this is from memory and I won’t be using direct quotes.
The mystery to me going in was why Blankenship agreed to it. What possible incentive is there for a corporate CEO to put himself in a risky situation, publicly defending a widely reviled product? What’s the upside? Why not just buy some ads or hire more lobbyists?
Having watched the debate, I’m more mystified than ever. If that was supposed to be damage control, I’d hate to see damage. Blankenship had every advantage, with a friendly hometown crowd eager to applaud him and a moderator who helpfully read off pro-coal facts during commercial breaks, but he was painfully and obviously outmatched by Kennedy. I guess it’s easy to get over-confident when you’ve effectively purchased a state government and broken the law with impunity for years.
He didn’t seem even cursorily prepared. Kennedy reeled off fact after fact about declining mining employment in WV, the age of Appalachian ecosystems and the impossibility of recovering them after MTR mining damage, the enormous health and economic impacts of coal on Appalachia, the size of Chinese investments in clean energy, the number of Clean Water Act violations from Massey, and on and on and on. Every fact was geared toward a plea to West Virginians: look, this man is making himself rich by making you poor. He’s sapping your state of jobs, income, health, and a future.
In response Blankenship had nothing but ressentiment and nativism. Over and over he dismissed Kennedy’s facts as “rhetoric” and “just false” claims that “you can find on the internet,” but not once did he refute or even convincingly contest a particular claim. He asked the audience to dismiss them based purely on crude stereotypes about out-of-state environmentalists.
His very first rebuttal drew on a familiar conservative trope: environmentalists are are overly emotional and rely on extremist rhetoric rather than facts and cool reason. But no sooner had the words left his mouth than he was talking about how the coal industry is really “your neighbors” and “Sunday school teachers,” working to create down-home energy so terrorists don’t come over and kill us. He warned that pesky regulatory constraints from do-gooders mean “we all better learn to speak Chinese.” This is what reasoned, non-emotional rhetoric looks like, I guess: if you criticize my company you hate Sunday school teachers, love terrorists, and want to surrender national sovereignty to Red China…for the rest, and it’s worth it, click over to Mr. Roberts’ article at Huff Post.
The Forum on the Future of Energy is a public forum that will include a conversation between Don Blankenship, chairman and CEO of Massey Energy, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of Waterkeeper Alliance and an environmentalist.
During the event, Blankenship and Kennedy will discuss environmental issues and energy policies that have an impact on jobs and the economy as well as national security.
The event moderator will be Edwin H. Welch, president of the University of Charleston.
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