Video: Coal country Senator says it’s time big coal stopped lying and faced reality

  • Published on June 22nd, 2012

pro-life vs pro-coal, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Wow. After years of bowing to his state’s all-powerful coal barons, West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller took to the floor of the Capitol Wednesday to denounce them.

Rockefeller accused big coal of using scare tactics and lies to bully people over environmental regulations. And he says it’s time coal executives stopped “pining for the past” and faced reality:

The dialogue on coal, its impact and federal government’s role has reached a stunningly fevered pitch—carefully orchestrated messages that strike fear into the hearts of West Virginians and feed uncertainty about coal’s future are the subject of millions of dollars of paid television ads, billboards, break room bulletin boards, public meetings, letters and lobbying campaigns.

A daily onslaught declares that coal is under siege from harmful outside sources and that the future of the state is bleak unless we somehow turn back the clock, ignore the present and block the future.

It was an ugly fight on the Senate floor to roll back the EPA’s restrictions on mercury – one of the most toxic substances known. When coal is burned the mercury can either go up the chimney, to be breathed by the men, women and children downwind, or it can be scrubbed by pollution control systems. But those cost money for industry, while paying for sick children is on somebody else’s dime.

West Virginia’s other senator, the conservative Democrat Joe Manchin, used the typical Republican talking point about “EPA’s jobs-killing agenda” to justify his vote in favor of brain damage for children and  11,000 pollution-related premature deaths.

But Rockefeller basically called that argument bullshit:

Without good health it’s difficult to hold down a job or live the American dream. Chronic illness is debilitating… it impacts families’ income, their prosperity, and ultimately, families happiness. The annual health benefits of the rule are enormous. The EPA has relied on thousands of studies that establish the serious long term effects of these pollutants on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children…  Maybe some can shrug off the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other medical and scientific groups, but I do not.

And he added that industry is simply lying to miners, blaming the EPA for jobs lost at aging coal-fired power plants that are being shut down, when in reality every one of the obsolete plants were already scheduled to be terminated because they’re old and decrepit and not making the industry any money. (And that doesn’t even get into the issue of climate change – those old, inefficient plans spewed tons more carbon into the atmosphere than the alternatives.)

“It’s important to be truthful with miners,” he said. “It’s kind of a forgotten art.”

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While Rockefeller’s stand won praise from environmentalists, and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called it “courageous”, West Virginia business leaders showed once more that you can take their profits when you pry them from their cold dead hands (unless you die first from the pollution they spew).

Members of the business community were shocked by Rockefeller’s speech, said West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said. Here’s the Chalreston, W. Va Daily Mail:

Members of the business community were shocked by Rockefeller’s speech, said West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts…

When a reporter called, Roberts answered his phone, “This is Capito for United States Senate headquarters.”

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is considered a possible U.S. Senate candidate. Rockefeller is next on the ballot in 2014 – if he runs again.

Rockefeller concluded.

“It’s not too late for the coal industry to step up and lead by embracing the realities of today in creating a sustainable future… Discard the scare tactics, stop denying science, listen to what markets are saying about greenhouse gases and other environmental concerns, what West Virginians are saying about their water and their air, and their health, and the cost of caring for seniors and children who are most susceptible to pollution.”

In the end, big coal lost by a vote of 46-53.

It’s a pretty amazing speech. Watch the whole thing:

(Image: an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.