Coal Tattoo

West Virginia’s anti-science gubernatorial candidates

Well, given their earlier answers to similar questions during the primary campaign (see here, here and here), none of this should have come as much of a shock.

But it’s still something to see when the anti-science attitudes of West Virginia political leaders and candidates are put out there so clearly …

At last night’s debate between the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates (the broadcasters group that sponsored the event refused to allow third-party candidates to take part), Hoppy Kercheval of  West Virginia MetroNews asked:

Do you believe man’s actions are causing the world to warm?

Republican Bill Maloney replied simply:

We’re in a cooling cycle.

Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin said:

Once again, there are differences of opinion as to whether we’re in global warming now.

OK … where to start here? What can you say about answers like these, except that they are extreme views — they are out on the fringe of what the science tells us. That they’re simply wrong?

Let’s just review very quickly here:  The world is clearly warming, according to repeated analysis by all sorts of scientific agencies and scientific bodies, from NOAA to the National Academy of Sciences to the World Meteorological Association.

So to just answer Hoppy’s question, well — the science clearly shows Tomblin and Maloney are just both wrong.  And to get to that you don’t even have to get into the issue of what’s causing the warming (though it’s clearly human activity like burning coal) or what should be done about it (most experts say we need to move quickly to reduce these emissions).

Now, I credit Hoppy for asking about global warming — and in the interest of full disclosure, he asked me for some suggested questions on issues I write about. Here’s the global warming question I suggested:

What is your reading of the current science about global warming? Do you believe the climate is changing, that those changes are caused by human activities such as the burning of coal? What specifically would you have our state do about climate change?

Both candidates answered Hoppy’s version differently than they answered a similar Gazette question during the primary. We asked:

Do you accept the science that global warming is occurring, and is largely caused by the emissions from coal-fired power plants? If so, what specifically would you have our state do about it?

Tomblin said at that time:

I recognize that there is significant evidence that our planet is warming, and that some of that warming is caused by carbon emissions. I fundamentally disagree, however, with the current approach taken by the Federal Government to resolve this problem, and I will work to protect our coal economy.

And Maloney said:

When I’m governor, West Virginia will mine coal. The EPA and the OSM are out of control. I’ll continue the fight and the lawsuits against the EPA, and I’ll also assert the primacy of West Virginia laws, so that our coal miners can make a living.

During last night’s debate, Hoppy spent a lot of time following up on questions about Tomblin’s family business, but he didn’t ask one single follow-up question about what is arguably the most pressing issue facing the planet — and also one of the biggest challenges facing West Virginia.

I suggested two other coal-related questions that didn’t make the cut:

— If coal is so good for West Virginia, why is the state — especially its coal-producing counties — so poor?

— Most projections indicate that — even without any new environmental restrictions on mining or air emissions — coal production in Central Appalachian is expected to decline dramatically over the course of this decade. Given that, what would you do to move the state’s coalfield counties — especially in southern West Virginia — toward a more stable and diverse economy that isn’t so dependent on coal?

To his credit, Hoppy also tried to raise the level of discussion of coal issues by taking my advice and asking the candidates about the growing science indicating associations between illnesses such as cancer and birth defects and living near mountaintop removal mines.

Unfortunately, he phrased the question as is there has been only one peer-reviewed study about this issue —  not 18 studies and counting:

A peer-reviewed study recently suggested that there are negative health effects for those who live near mountaintop removal sites. Do you believe that’s true, and, if so, should something be done about it?

Maloney simply said:

That science is not proven to me. I’ve looked at it briefly and I don’t see it.

Tomlin said:

I think that was one report that was done. Before I would believe it, there would have to be additional studies done to prove that fact.

Maloney didn’t offer — and Hoppy didn’t ask for — any explanation from Maloney about what in the studies he questions, why he thinks they’re not accurate. He didn’t ask him which ones he had read. He didn’t follow up at all.

And of course, Hoppy gave Tomblin his out on the issue, by asking about only one study when, in fact there have been at least 18 studies in the last few years on this issue.

Science apparently has no place in West Virginia politics.