This afternoon, activists hung this banner on the South Side Bridge in downtown Charleston, in anticipation of today’s big debate. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.
Sure, for my friends in the national media, this is a great story: Coal baron vs. radical environmentalist (who, conveniently, happens to be named Kennedy). I don’t blame all those folks for flocking to this event, ready to file dispatches for their readers around the world.
But what will those stories say? Unfortunately, they’ll probably depict West Virginia as this bitterly divided state, where some of us agree 100 percent with Blankenship and others think Kennedy is right about everything.
The reality, though, is that a majority of West Virginians — while they oppose mountaintop removal — aren’t living and dying on these issues. They don’t like the idea of blowing up mountains and burying hundreds of miles of streams. But they get pretty darned uneasy about their neighbors losing their jobs, too.
Go back again to what Sen. Robert C. Byrd said in his incredible commentary about coal needing to “embrace the future” —
Most people understand that America cannot meet its current energy needs without coal, but there is strong bi-partisan opposition in Congress to the mountaintop removal method of mining it. We have our work cut out for us in finding a prudent and profitable middle ground – but we will not reach it by using fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage as a strategy.
Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.
Blankenship and Kennedy both say they have the best interests of Appalachia in their hearts and minds. If that’s true, they’ll both spend more of tonight’s forum trying to understand the other person’s point of view and less time trying to prove the other guy wrong.
And, it would be great if both sides of the coal debate would spend the evening not looking for sound bites they agree with, but trying to find something the other side says that makes some sense.