Blankenship vs. Kennedy II: Deconstructing the debate

January 21, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

debate3.jpg

I’m sure Coal Tattoo readers are anxious to start weighing in on tonight’s big debate between Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship and environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. So please have at it below in the comments section … just keep it clean and respectful of each other, and both Kennedy and Blankenship.

We’ve got tomorrow morning’s print story online now, and here’s the link to that. Here on the blog, I’m going to try to do a little bit of deconstructing, a little bit of fact-checking and just generally give some more perspective on what we all heard over across the Kanawha River in the University of Charleston’s Geary Auditorium.

UPDATED: If you missed it, the complete audio is available from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

My guess is most of the commentary is going to say Kennedy won the debate. And let’s face it, Kennedy is a great public speaker and a very charismatic guy.  In a post-debate media briefing, even Blankenship admitted that public speaking isn’t his favorite thing — he says he’s a small-town guy, kind of shy and reserved. I don’t know about that, but Blankenship does sometimes mumble a bit and tonight he failed to really offer much of a detailed response to some of Kennedy’s major points.

debate6.jpgSeveral times, Blankenship expressed frustration as he tried to respond to Kennedy as bombarded him with a litany of problems Kennedy linked to the coal industry:

There is so much rhetoric that it’s tough to deal with in these kinds of discussions.

At the same time, Kennedy certainly was far from perfect and made a few statements that were just way wrong or don’t really hold water. A few examples:

debate5.jpg— Kennedy said that wind power provides 85,000 jobs, more than the 81,000 provided by the coal industry nationwide. As I’ve blogged before, that comparison is bogus. The wind industry figure includes construction jobs and manufacturing jobs (folks who make and built the turbines). But the coal industry figure, while accurate as far as it goes, does not include spin-off jobs, vendors, etc.

— Kennedy said that tens of thousands of miners — I think the exact number he used was 90,000 —  had lost their jobs since the 1950s, and none of them were forced out of work by environmental regulations. It’s always dangerous to use always or never … and in this case, anybody who follows the coal industry closely knows Kennedy was wrong. As Gene Trisko of the United Mine Workers testified to the U.S. Senate last year, the acid-rain provisions of the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990 cost something like 30,000 jobs in the high-sulfur coalfields of places like northern West Virginia and southern Illinois.

kbdebate2.jpg

University of Charleston officials set up giant video screens for the overflow crowd at Thursday’s debate. Gazette photo by Chip Ellis.

— And at the end of the debate, Kennedy said somewhat glibly that he and Blankenship probably agree that carbon capture and storage, as a technology to deal with global warming, “is a joke.” OK. Now, Kennedy is among the environmentalists who point to the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, as the scientific gospel on climate change issues.They point to it is absolute proof of the scientific consensus that the world is warming, it’s caused by things like burning coal, and something needs to be done about it. But guess what? The IPCC has said several times that one of the things that needs to be done is carbon capture and storage. (See IPCC reports here and here, or check out my quotes from the IPCC reports in this lengthy story on CCS).

debate2.jpg

It might be unfair to do, but if I had to summarize the two world views expressed by Blankenship and Kennedy, at least regarding the coal industry, this is how I’d do it.

Kennedy:

This [mountaintop removal] is the worst environmental crime that has ever happened in our history. These companies are liquidating this state for cash with these gigantic machines.

We’re not going to get rid of all mining in this state, and I’m not advocating that. [But] the state needs to start diversifying and transitioning to a new energy economy.

Blankenship:

Coal is what made the industrial revolution possible. It’s what won World War I and World War II and it’s the best hope for the future of this country.

The mission statement for coal is prosperity for this country. This industry is what made this country great and if we forget that, we’re going to have to learn to speak Chinese.

Coal industry folks like this line. And there’s a lot of truth to the part about how coal helped build the country. Coal Tattoo reader and commenter Tom Rodd has mentioned this fact repeatedly, and it is a huge mistake by the environmental community (and this blog, too, if I’m being honest about it) that they don’t do more to acknowledge this fact. But Blankenship isn’t really among those in the industry who are jumping to “embrace the future,” of a carbon-constrained world or finding ways to further reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal. (See previous posts here, here and here for some examples of industry folks who are doing so.)

And this is one place where Blankenship fell down. Despite the growing scientific consensus that mountaintop removal’s environmental impacts, Blankenship said that these types of mining operations “don’t have any meaningful pollution.” Blankenship made out like EPA’s concerns are only about tiny amounts of harmless stuff in water downstream from mining operations, instead of the widespread destruction of forests, headwater streams and coalfield communities.

Most interesting was Blankenship’s response to Kennedy’s riff about the pollution of fish in streams across the country with mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Blankenship said he wasn’t sure where that information was coming from and that, “you can find anything you want on the Internet.” In fact, you can find details about how mercury from coal-fired power plants is contaminating fish on the Internet. It’s right there, on the Web sites of the U.S. Geological Survey or the National Academy of Sciences.

And, Blankenship offered no coherent response when Kennedy brought up the peer-reviewed research by West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx that Appalachians who live near coal-mining operations suffer more illnesses and die sooner than those who don’t.

Blankenship did reply when Kennedy talked about other research by Hendryx which found the adverse health effects of the coal industry outweigh mining’s positive economic benefits for Appalachia:

It may have some external costs. I don’t know what they are or how much they cost But I know we provide a lot more to the communities than we take away from them.

Updated: Last year, the National Academy of Sciences put the price of just one small part of these external costs — premature deaths from coal-fired power plant air pollution — at $62 billion a year.

And as I said, Blankenship several times express frustration with trying to respond and react to all that Kennedy was throwing at him:

It’s easy to spout out rhetoric, but the truth is if it weren’t for coal, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to sit here and discuss it.

Or:

It’s very difficult listening to this rhetoric and understanding that it’s just not the case. It doesn’t make sense to have a dialogue when we’re throwing out all sorts of things that just aren’t true.

And Blankenship kept going back to his view that Americans have it pretty good compared to suffering in the rest of the world — and environmental or workplace conditions in other places, perhaps — and that there are bigger problems than mountaintop removal or climate change that deserve our attention more:

The real sin is that the environmentalists want to focus on 1 part per milion of iron or all of this other nonsense, when tens of millions of people are starving to death.

The other thing Blankenship repeated was his belief that an attack on the coal industry is an attack on the people who work in it — an attack, for those of us who live here, on  “the people who are teaching your Sunday schools and coaching your Little League.”

Several environmental bloggers and some other folks I spoke with tonight were all over this. Their thought was that Blankenship criticizes Kennedy and other environmentalists for invoking “emotion” in their fight against coal industry practices, but that Blankenship is really doing the same thing.

Of course, they are right. But there’s something else in what Blankenship is saying that caught my attention. Now that the “Big Debate” is over, the national media and many of the activists or publicists on both sides will go home. The people of the coalfields are still here, stuck with the same problems: An industry on the decline, causing widespread environmental damage — and contributing greatly to global warming — but still responsible for a big economic boost in places like Boone and Logan counties.

UC President Ed Welch deserves a lot of credit for taking this event on and then pulling it off.  The Associated Press said the debate “amounted to a prize fight for the hearts and minds of Americans who know next to nothing about coal.” And Kennedy told me he hoped the event would draw more national attention to help fight mountaintop removal.

But what if the “neighbors” Blankenship was describing decided to use this forum as a jumping off point to start talking to each other — instead of talking past each other, yelling at each other or threatening each other — about coal’s downside, its upside and its future?

And that takes me right back to where I started this morning, quoting Sen. Byrd:

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.

76 Responses to “Blankenship vs. Kennedy II: Deconstructing the debate”

  1. Tracey:

    I too was at the debate, and while Kennedy failed to follow the rules of the debate on a number of occasions, which didn’t help him at all, I felt, very strongly, that Kennedy won the debate by a large margin. Don did not use any credible facts, and called Kennedy’s facts–while not always accurate–“rhetoric” (some facts weren’t far off from the truth, though I cringe when I hear incorrect facts).

    In other words, all I heard from Don was rhetoric, and as I noted in a previous comment, he contradicted himself on a couple of major topics.

    Now, to the point of this comment. Just as Ken has requested, I’d also be interested to know how you came up with the “75% of state coal taxes” number. My own research and information from the WV Department of Revenue indicates that is inaccurate.

    I’ve often heard similar numbers being thrown around, mostly by WV legislators from coalfield counties. However, the number is usually around 67%. What that number actually refers to is business taxes. I don’t have any data confirming this, but I can see how 67-75% of state business taxes come from coal, in general, because it is my understanding that the number combines taxes from both electric utilities such as AEP and mining companies–and along with tourism and government–serve as two of the greatest revenue generators in the state.

    The point is, it does not represent what your assertion suggests, that 75% of state tax revenues come from coal. Here’s why.

    The coal severance tax, by far the greatest chunk of taxes coming from coal, amounted to $412 million in 2008 (data provided by WV Dept of Revenue). Severance taxes are part of the General Revenue Fund. In FY 2009, the total general revenue (taxes) amounted to $3.9 billion. That means that coal severance taxes–in perhaps their best year ever due to record coal prices–amounted to 10.5% of total state tax revenues.

    As far as business taxes go, there are two types of business taxes in WV: the Business and Occupation tax–which is a tax on electric generating utilities–and the Corporate Income/Business Franchise tax, which I believe applies to all companies.

    In FY 2009, these two taxes amounted to about 11.5% of total general revenue: http://www.wvbudget.gov/revenues/RGRjun09.pdf

    Now, assuming that 1) the 75% number applies to the combination of those two taxes, and 2) that coal mining companies and utilities provide as much as 75% of total business taxes (instead of 67% as I’d heard), coal’s share of total business taxes provides 8.7% of general revenue funds.

    Adding the severance tax and the high-end estimate for business taxes from coal, coal’s total share of state taxes amounts to just under 20% of total tax revenue, and that is for a good year (severance taxes in previous years were around the $300-370 million range).

    Other taxes do apply, such as the personal income tax, but since coal employment amounts to only about 5% of the state labor force, it is not expected that coal contributes a significant portion of personal income taxes. That is something that will be researched in great detail in the coming months, however.

    If you do happen to have a source available that backs up the claim of 75%, I would appreciate seeing that as well. The true number, however, in my understanding, is less than 20%.

    The point is, even if coal accounts for up to 20% of state tax revenues, as our report suggests, that number is likely to fall substantially over the next decade, and the argument that–for the purpose of preserving tax revenues and jobs–the state should begin developing alternative economic opportunities to fill the coming gap.

  2. Casey says:

    Rory,

    If you want to state the statistics to even have more of an impact and be accurate you should recite percentage changes rather than percentage point changes i.e. so in four years the non-hydro renewables share increased by 1.2 percentage points or a 55% increase.

    Perhaps the point made by Blankenship regarding the lack of extensive wind and solar generation has to do with the fact that there hasn’t been much due to the high comparable costs. With recent government subsidies and technology improvements, this is changing. Besides the higher costs of wind and solar there are still problems getting them built (NIMBY), powerline grid construction ($’s and NIMBY), continued government subsidies (deficit), and non-constant generation (large capital for idle back-up generation).

    Clem,
    There are indeed problems with peer review. Richard Horton, editor of the British medical journal The Lancet, has said that “The mistake, of course, is to have thought that peer review was any more than a crude means of discovering the acceptability — not the validity — of a new finding. Editors and scientists alike insist on the pivotal importance of peer review. We portray peer review to the public as a quasi-sacred process that helps to make science our most objective truth teller. But we know that the system of peer review is biased, unjust, unaccountable, incomplete, easily fixed, often insulting, usually ignorant, occasionally foolish, and frequently wrong.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_review

    Maybe it is the best that we have but at least I’d like to see similar studies funded from different camps, to at least feel that there is fairness and not bias. I think one of the authors of the Science article on mining is also on the Board of Reviewing Editors, Science Magazine (as well as Board of Directors- The Nature Conservancy).

    http://ib.berkeley.edu/labs/power/mary_power_cv.html

  3. roselle says:

    Ken,

    JFK Jr is a lead attorney for NRDC. NRDC supports CCS, but RFK thinks its a joke. Now that is inconsistent. James Hanson and Thomas Friedman, two people I like to quote, think nuclear power will be essential to meeting emission reductions, while I don’t. That makes me inconsistent, but it doesn’t strike me as wrongheaded. Kennedy had probably already made up his mind on global warming before the IPCC report came out, so I can’t understand why he couldn’t quote from it without having to swallow it whole.

  4. Thanks for the tip Casey. I put that all together fairly quickly, though do note that I said that wind generation tripled b/w 2005 and 2008, which I think sounds better than saying “increased by 200%.”

    As for your other comments:

    “Perhaps the point made by Blankenship regarding the lack of extensive wind and solar generation has to do with the fact that there hasn’t been much due to the high comparable costs.”

    I would argue that a 8,000-13,000 MW increase in wind generating capacity each year is fairly substantial.

    “With recent government subsidies and technology improvements, this is changing.”

    We’ll see how 2010 pans out, but 2009 wasn’t a relatively strong wind year. I also want to address energy subsidies:

    “Estimating U.S. Government Subsidies to Energy Sources: 2002-2008
    Environmental Law Institute – September 2009 – 37 pages
    http://www.elistore.org/Data/products/d19_07.pdf

    “The largest U.S subsidies to fossil fuels are attributed to tax breaks that aid foreign oil production, according to the research. The study, which reviewed fossil fuel and energy subsidies for Fiscal Years 2002-2008, concluded that the lion’s share of energy subsidies supported energy sources that emit high
    levels of greenhouse gases.”

    For a better description of the comparative subsidies and the conclusion by the Environmental Law Institute:

    “according to a new analysis from the Environmental Law Institute released today, roughly $72 billion between 2002 and 2008.

    More than $54 billion of that was in the form of 23 different tax credits for oil, coal and natural gas producers, including those overseas, most of which are permanent provisions of the U.S. Tax Code. Just $18.3 billion was grants and other direct cash for research and development and other pursuits, such as the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

    Renewables such as wind, solar and hydropower received nearly $29 billion in all, much of it also in the form of tax credits although, in this case, credits that expire after set durations. And more than half of the renewable subsidy—$16.8 billion—went to the production of ethanol from corn, a controversial biofuel that can cut into food supplies and has significant environmental consequences, including greenhouse gas emissions and expanded dead zones from fertilizer runoff.”

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=how-much-in-subsidies-do-fossil-fue-2009-09-18

  5. Casey says:

    Rory, can you provide the subsidies in $/kilowatt for each electrical generation source? The absolute number would not be a fair comparison since the utilization percents are drastically different.

    I agree that corn for fuel is a bad idea. The only good thing is that is domestically produced.

  6. That’s a good point indeed Casey. However, it becomes problematic when you’re talking about subsidizing a fledgling industry versus subsidizing a well-established industry. Mature industries should not need subsidies if they’re viable. Infant industries, just like infant businesses, need a little boost.

    As for the corn, it’s actually a bad thing that it’s domestically produced, because now we’re using farmland to produce fuel instead of food. And an inefficient fuel at that (I think the Energy Return on Investment is something like 1.1:1).

    Back to subsidies though, if you remember, the National Academy of Sciences also calculated that the average economic cost of air pollution from coal-fired power plants amounts to 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

    http://www8.nationalacademies.org/onpinews/newsitem.aspx?RecordID=12794

  7. Dave Bassage says:

    To Bob Kincaid, I think you’ll find you and I are far more in agreement than conflict on energy strategies. But I don’t think we get to a sustainable future by spending most of our energy lambasting what we think is wrong rather than promoting what we think is right.

    Yes Kennedy spoke in broad strokes about the potential for wind and other renewables to replace coal. Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t hear him speak at all about how to assure a better economic future for WV and the southern coalfields as we transition away from coal. If I were a coal miner in southern WV I’d find little comfort in Kennedy’s remarks, and that was my point. The answer to our energy future will NOT come from the good guys beating the bad guys. It will come from all of us managing a productive transition to sustainable strategies in a manner that not only moves us beyond the ravages you cite, but also provides new and better opportunities for those displaced by lost coal jobs.

    What I heard in this ‘debate’ was two firmly entrenched speakers scoffing at each other. What I maintain we need to hear is not insults and distorted numbers, but practical solutions.

    Neil, you and I clearly have different views on how science is conducted and what constitutes sound science. I don’t know of a single dollar spent by government to fund a scientific study with a predetermined outcome. Certainly many government dollars have funded studies that ended up further reinforcing the basic premise that human activities are a significant factor in a warming planet. But to call your bluff, I don’t know of a single skeptic assertion denying the human role in a warming planet that has stood up to scientific scrutiny.

    Skepticism is a critical component of science. But what matters to all of us is what emerges from the other side of applied skepticism. Anyone can say “I don’t believe it”. But to make a defensible scientific argument denying the human role in a warming planet is not something I’m aware of any scientist doing, regardless of funding source. By ‘defensible’ I mean independently verified by other scientists and shown to reflect diligent application of the scientific method.

  8. JB says:

    All these comments offered by leading critical thinkers suggests that we have real opportunity on the horizon when the governor meets with Bo Webb, coalfield residents, and environmental advocates and DEP regulators (sic) in the near future. We should also have a representative from the renewable energy industry to help convince the powers that be to make an effort at a sustainable future. We have to diversify our economy if our state is to survive the downsizing of coal.

  9. Casey says:

    Rory,
    The question was can you provide the subsidies in $/kilowatt for each electrical generation source? I did not see the answer to that question in your link. Is your discussion of hidden costs a diversion? You previously made a point about the absolute dollar value of solar and coal subsides but a true comparison would be in $/KW’s. It is a fair question even when recognizing fledging versus well established.

    External costs can be estimated and discussed but without an honest assessment of benefits there is no way to truly place value. How is the standard of living for those millions in the world that do not have electricity?

  10. Clem Guttata says:

    I didn’t read Rory’s answer as a diversion… he correctly questioned an assumption in your question–why do highly profitable established industries even need government subsidies? — and also addressed your question.

    In addition to direct subsidies, the biggest indirect subsidy for coal is cost shifting. Extraction, processing, and burning of coal makes multi-millionaires out of a very few while damaging air and water quality for multi-millions. Rory quoted an estimate for just air pollution and it is substantial:

    “Back to subsidies though, if you remember, the National Academy of Sciences also calculated that the average economic cost of air pollution from coal-fired power plants amounts to 3.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.”

    Personally, I don’t find it very productive to suggest that the alternative to burning coal is to reduce our standard of living. I’m a lot more optimistic about our options moving forward.

    Energy efficiency, conservation, micro-power generation with wind, solar, and geothermal can provide us with enough power to enjoy the same standard of living we do today. Actually, it’ll be even better because the air we breath will be cleaner and our water cleaner, too.

  11. minermike says:

    All these windmills are being built in other countries!Wake up people…

  12. Casey says:

    Rory & Clem,
    I really did not know the answer to my question. I had looked and did not find it but now I finally located something. You can continue telling partial truths but most people are intelligent enough to want the total picture.

    Subsidies and Support per Unit of Production (dollars/megawatthour):
    Coal 0.44
    Wind 23.37
    Solar 24.34

    So the taxpayers are paying huge dollars to promote the renewables. It is just something that everyone should know- eyes wide open like T-Rodd says.

    http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/energy_in_brief/energy_subsidies.cfm

    Micro-power sounds great. How many bloggers out there have put their money where their mouth is and built a system?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microgeneration

    If wind and solar continue bringing their costs down to be more competitive in the market then I’m certainly okay with that. What I don’t understand is how we can be 100% renewables, like Clem stated we can be, without brownouts and blackouts. Interruptions and high costs would not result in the same standard of living.

  13. JB says:

    I’d like to see the technology for producing fuel cells become more prounced right here in WV. We have all the components for successful fuel cell manufacturing right here, the resources, the manpower, and the universities to do the studies. We have to move beyond MTR and move into a sustainable future.

  14. Clem Guttata says:

    Thank you for those figures. It’s absolutely scandalous that taxpayers are paying the well established, mature and highly profitable coal industry $0.44 per kilowatt hour in subsidies. That number should be $0.00. I appreciate you bringing that to our attention.

    I came very close to installing wind and solar 3+ years ago when I did a major renovation/addition but ultimately did not because our net metering / electricity buy-back regulations are horrible in West Virginia.

    Everything about the current regs is stacked in the utility’s favor (that’s another hidden subsidy for status quo coal interests!).
    There’s lot of issues with the regs, but for me the deal breaker is no guaranteed back buy or, even net metering–the utility could stop buying my power in the future if distributed power generation hits a certain level across the state.

    Fix those regs and things will change. Meanwhile, neighboring states are getting a jump on those markets and attracting the manufacturers along with the skilled labor that can do the installs. It’s another way that West Virginia foot dragging is hurting our long term competitiveness.

    I did what I could on the efficiency/conservation side. I may still do geothermal, and probably will if I ever decide to install central air. Also, if there was an option in Morgan County–which, alas, there isn’t yet–I would pay extra (if need be) to purchase wind or other green power.

    Bottom line: I’m fully prepared to put “my money where my mouth is,” but it is really hard to do in West Virginia.

  15. Clem Guttata says:

    Casey — Oops, forgot to address your base load question. There’s a lot of established nuclear and hydro in the country that isn’t going anywhere. Also, the wind is always blowing somewhere (and it tends to blow more when the sun ain’t shining).

    Through efficiency and conservation we have the ability over the next 10-20 years to drop our consumption in half and then drop it in half again. Do that, beef up distributed power generation and we’ll need a whole lot less base power generation than we use today.

  16. FactsFirst says:

    What was amazing was the absence of a rebuttal to Kennedy’s repeated statement that wind and solar energy is “free.” Casey’s post on the enormous subsidies that are currently required for solar and wind to be on the grid is just the tip of the iceberg. Basically, those numbers would indicate that those subsidies are not simply defraying the cost, they are what the wind and solar generators make all of their $$$ from. They are production tax credits they sell to other companies who have made money and those companies use them to reduce their tax burden. The solar and wind generators cannot get the tax credit unless they actually sell what they produce. As a result, they will often offer to pay the transmisson operator to take the electricity so they can get the credit to sell for cash–basically negative pricing that is hardly efficient if you are a fan of conservation. The other myth about “free” renewable electricity is that it is intermittent so there needs to be a backup source. Some renewable generator estimates say they have a 20-25% capacity factor–that meaning they can supply their capacity up to a quarter of the time. So if you needed 100MW of electricity, a wind farm with a 25% capacity factor can only be counted on for about 25MW. The transmission authority in Texas studied these claims and has found that the capacity factor is only about 10% in terms of availability. So prudent planning would require about 90% backup of natural gas or coal, i.e., 90 MW for every 100MW of wind. So how free is that when you are subsidizing a source that also requires building close to 100% redundancy from conventional sources. Finally, the other myth about “free electricity” from solar or wind is the entire supply chain to build these sources. They require minerals, many of which we are highly or completely import dependent upon. Renewables is not just about the wind and sun–or concrete and steel. And the competition for these other commodities that are required to build these sources will only become greater globally. We will need renewables, but let’s stop overselling the virtues. None of our future options will be inexpensive–let alone free.
    Kennedy and Blankenship both agreed on one thing it appeared—Kennedy called CCS a joke. Blankenship agreed. Maybe it was the other way around. Either way— as for consistency Blankenship appears to consider CCS unnecessary because he does not accept any connection between carbon emissions and climate. Blankenship is at least consistent–no climate change, no need for CCS. Kennedy does accept climate change and its connection to carbon. If that’s the case, he should be full behind CCS since all the leading authorities agree that without CCS for coal and natural gas there is no climate change solution. Some may suspect that Kennedy is a “skeptic” on CCS only because he is against using coal. Bottom line–they both agree on CCS for different reasons, but they are both wrong. Kennedy’s claim to be a supporter of capitalism and free enterprise system does not appear to square with his points about the coal industry employing fewer miners today than years past while producing more coal. But that is essentially the core of the free enterprise system. Any industry that is not improving productivity will not survive. See the auto industry, see much of our manufacturing base in the US; see your local banks that now use ATMs rather than more bank buildings and people. An important point that I may have missed from either Kennedy or Blankenship is the higher wages coal pays with higher productivity. Anyway, if I recall, Kennedy ran a op-ed this past summer saying something to the effect that Wal Mart employed more people in WV than coal. Perhaps, but the coal miners were making a lot more than the check-out person or inventory manager at Wal Mart. Oh, I just read that Wal Mart annuonced that it will let go 10,000 people or 10% of its workforce. They think they need to be more efficient to compete.

  17. Casey says:

    FactsFirst,

    I wished that I had said that. You are a mythbuster extraordinaire.

    A lot of Kennedy’s arguments were just weak. Switching to underground to employ more people is a philosophy that would kill the country if applied to all industries. Plus while promoting underground he turned around and slammed it for impoundments and pollutants.

  18. Stan Edwards says:

    I don’t like Don Blankenship being the spokesman for our industry. I have worked for him and many other major mining companys. Why don’t any of the other CEO’s of the big coal companies want to debate? Because they’re not foolish like Mr. B. They don’t have time or the money to be a dumbass.
    We have a lot more competent men to speak for us but they don’t.

  19. FactsFirst says:

    Casey, you did say it–you brought the facts, I just built on them. We are going to need all of our energy sources, but we should have the discussion with eyes wide open on the choices and what they entail. Stan, I suspect the NGO community has he same feeling about Kennedy being their spokesperson. The debate struck me as more of a reality TV scheme. Entertainment value but short on reality. There are people in both camps who would have brought more reason and less rhetoric to the show. But it may not have been as entertaining and tickets would have gone for the wanting.

  20. Sue (Colorado) says:

    I watched the debate and am surprised that the people of West Virginia don’t care more about the economics. Is it fair that Mr. Blankenship made $15M last year, more than all the shareholders? Is it fair that he fired the WV workers and hired out of state workers? Is it fair that you are left with an environmental dump while he personally and his company make millions of dollar to take elsewhere? Mercury is a toxin and there are plenty of studies in Texas and China that show increased Autism rates and other health problems. Who pays that costs? Massey? Mr. Blankenship? No, Citizens do.

    West Virginians have the power they choose to use. Why do you allow Mountain Top Removal, poisoning of your river and streams, a poor quality of health for your citizens? Stand up!

    People in Colorado would never stand for this even though we also have coal reserves. You have such great natural endowments and a good educational system. You need to stand up for yourself and future generations and stop this pillaging of your beautiful state!

    Bobby had nothing to gain from his comments. Mr. Blankenship had tons to gain from his comments.

  21. Neil Craig says:

    Dave your contention that you”don’t know a single government funded study set up for a predetermined outcome” can only be true if you either know nothing on the subject or you have some evidence that approx 50% of government fundiing of GW studies has gone to sceptics. Since the latter is clearly untrue i will do you the courtesy of assuming you have total ignorance of the subject under discussion.

    This might explain your inability to name even 1 independent scientist who says catastrophic warming is true but cannot explain the fact that thousands of other self declared experts can’t name 1 either.

  22. Clem Guttata says:

    Neil — The reason you’re not getting answers to your question is because your question just doesn’t make any sense.

    It is accepting money from corporate interests that makes a piece of research not independent–did you hear what Don Blankenship said… “You can find any numbers you are willing to pay for…”That’s the attitude of corporate funded research.

    That’s not how government funded research works. The government is the most independent form of grant funding available.

    Any scientist of decent caliber in a major hard sciences field will have received some government funding at some time.

    I may be wrong, but I think you’ve got everything turned upside down here. If your definition of “independent” means no government funding, that’s going to pretty much mean the same thing as “‘unqualified.”

  23. Ken Ward Jr. says:

    OK, Neil and Clem … That’s enough on this issue of who funds studies, etc. It’s not going anywhere and is getting a little tiresome. Move on. Ken.

  24. Vickie says:

    I’ve been away, just read this blog and comments today; there are a couple of points to which I want to respond, both made by Casey.
    1) “Kennedy misspoke about that also in stating that the study ‘proved’ a connection when it only indicated a link.” The fact is that THERE IS NO STANDARD OF “PROOF” IN SCIENCE. What science does is to provide evidence, and it’s up to each of us individually to decide whether or not something’s been “proven” to us; science is not in the business of “proving” things. Therefore, I would have been more comfortable if Mr. Kennedy had not used the word “proved,” since scientific “proof” is generally in the eye of the beholder; but for that same reason, neither Casey, nor I, nor anyone else can dictate what constitutes scientific “proof” to someone else and therefore credibly argue that the correlation Hendryx showed does not meet someone else’s criteria for “proof.”
    2) The quote Casey used about peer review (Comment 52) is one person’s opinion. Peer review DOES generally work pretty well, and I disagree with the contention that it works only for discovering acceptability and not validity. Sure, someone could conceivably submit new “findings” that are totally false and have their study be accepted by a scientific journal. But that’s where “repeatability” comes in: if it’s a “new finding,” you can bet that someone else is going to try to repeat the study and if they don’t get similar results, the original results will be called into question quickly.

  25. […] covered in the media, and a couple of Kennedy’s statements couldn’t stand up to the post-debate fact checking: Kennedy said that wind power provides 85,000 jobs, more than the 81,000 provided by the coal […]

  26. […] Blankenship vs. Kennedy II: Deconstructing the debate. – Ken Ward Jr., The Charleston Gazette, January 22, 2010 I’m sure Coal Tattoo readers are anxious to start weighing in on tonight’s big debate between Massey Energy Chief Executive Don Blankenship and environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. So please have at it below in the comments section … just keep it clean and respectful of each other, and both Kennedy and Blankenship. Click Here […]