Coal Tattoo

Searching for Cecil Roberts II


Yesterday, in Searching for Cecil Roberts I, I tried to describe the political box that United Mine Workers of American President Cecil Roberts is in on issues like global warming and mountaintop removal. And, I encouraged Coal Tattoo readers and commenters to try to put themselves in Cecil’s place, and understand the pressures he deals with both within his union and in Washington.

Well, today the UMWA president was on my buddy Hoppy Kercheval’s Talkline program, and talked about global warming. On this kind of issue, there’s only so much you can do if you’re being interviewed by Hoppy. He has his GOP talking points about the evil cap-and-trade bill being a tax, and he’s not going to let you get much past that story line.

But surely Cecil could have done better than this:

We’ve never questioned the science (of global warming). I think the Earth is heating up … the question really is and the debate is how much has man contributed to that.

That’s denier talk. Come on now.

To give him credit, Cecil did a good job of explaining where the UMWA is coming from on cap-and-trade, by nothing the union’s desire to slow down the emissions reductions and give the industry time to fully develop and deploy carbon capture and storage technology:

Let’s develop this technology, put it on coal-fired utilities … we’ll create millions of jobs and reduce greenhouse emissions to the atmosphere.

But the denier talk bothers me. And that’s what it is. Let’s review:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (The IPCC) concluded in its most recent review, published in 2007, that the increase in global average temperaturs since the mid-20th century “is very likely” — meaning scientists agreed they were more than 90 percent certain of it — to have been caused by increases in human-caused greenhouse emissions. These emission increases, the IPCC said, “are due primarily” to fossil fuels, with land-use change “providing another significant but smaller contribution.”

Cecil went on to make it appear that dealing with global warming is just a political issue — that the Congress and/or EPA are going to do something, that it’s a political fight that’s over, and the proper thing to do now is to just try to influence the policy to help coal miners as much as possible:

That train left a long time ago. What we have to deal with is the reality that something is going to happen.

That all may be (in fact it is) true.  But by venturing into the land of, “Well, we aren’t exactly sure precisely how much of the warming comes from humans”, Cecil gives ammunition to the very folks within his union and its membership — not to mention the coal industry — who oppose any action on climate change at all.

Imagine how the union meeting goes: Well, gosh, Cecil, if they don’t even know how much of this warming is caused by humans, why should we do anything about it? Let’s wait until they do some more studies.

Instead, why not give his members — a lot of whom probably listen to Hoppy’s particular brand of political commentary –  a clear, concise and scientifically accurate statement about how the planet is warming, humans (and in particular the coal industry) are responsible, and if we don’t do something we’re going to face very bad consequences?

Cecil and others within the UMWA know this. I don’t really think the union leadership is a bunch of deniers. At least I don’t want to think that. And Cecil is a pretty good communicator. Given more time, and with more effort, I think he’s communicate the nature of global warming to his members pretty clearly. The coalfields — and the rest of the country — need him to do so.

I’m going to blog more about this later, but I wanted to also give everyone the link to the UMWA’s prepared testimony on the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill. It’s posted here, and it’s worth a read.