Coal Tattoo

Friday roundup, June 8, 2012

A Filipino environmental activist dances with a bag of charcoal during a protest outside the Asian Development Bank in Pasig, east of Manila, Philippines on Thursday, June 7, 2012. The group called on the ADB and the Department of Energy to pursue renewable energy and abandon coal powered projects which are said to produce toxic emissions and worsen climate change.(AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

Here in West Virginia, we certainly see a lot of public relations and advertising aimed at promoting the notion of “clean coal” and the Obama administration’s “war on coal.” So a guest post on Climate Progress (reprinted from the Penn State Climate Ethics blog) by Donald Brown is Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics, Science and Law at Penn State University called The Ethics Of ‘Clean Coal’ Propaganda was especially interesting:

For over a decade the coal industry has funded campaigns designed to convince Americans that coal can be burned without adverse environmental impacts. These campaigns raise troubling ethical issues. In fact, as we shall see, these campaigns have often been misleading and deceptive in several different ways.

This deception is classic propaganda because propaganda presents facts selectively to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than a rational response to the information presented. Although many entities on both sides of an issue who are trying to persuade the general public to think a certain way will frequently resort to the use of propaganda, as we shall see, deceptive propaganda is particularly morally odious when it engages in lying or lying by omission. A lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. The clean coal propaganda has frequently engaged in propaganda that must be understood as lying by omission, if not outright lying. It is also lying by omission about something which is potentially very harmful, making the lies even more morally abhorrent.

Meanwhile, my buddy Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone posted an interview he did with Maria Gunnoe about the previously covered “bathtub photo” incident in Washington, writing:

Gunnoe is one of the toughest people I’ve ever hung out with. The first time I met her, back in 2001, she gave me a tour of her home in Boone County, West Virginia, which had recently been devastated by floods caused by run-off from a mountaintop removal mine above her home. Then she tucked a silver .32 caliber pistol under her belt and took me on a hike up through blasted rubble into the mine. Protection from bears? “Or angry coal miners,” she told me.

Gunnoe knows how rough things can get in the coalfields. I’ve been with her when she stared down a six-foot-tall miner at a gas station who clearly wanted to hurt her. Coal trucks have tried to force her car off the road, her brake lines have been slashed, and her family dog, a Rottweiler named Chaos, wound up dead at her son’s bus stop, shot in the chest – a clear warning to back off.

But Gunnoe, 44, who is part Cherokee and whose roots in West Virginia go as deep as any oak tree, has not backed off. She speaks around the country about the devastation being wrought by mountaintop removal mining in the coal country of Appalachia – a place most Americans care little about. She is blunt, authoritative, and, with her long dark hair, telegenic. The media loves her (the fact that her brother and her son both work in deep mines only adds to her credibility). Big Coal hates her, of course.

The story made it into the Washington Post this week, with a little bit of context about Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn’s politics:

What seems like a minor dustup could actually be a fine media play all the way around. Here’s how.

For Gunnoe and photographer Falkenberg, the dispute is bringing plenty of publicity to their anti-mining cause.

Most of Lamborn’s constituents, on the other hand, are likely to take his side. The Republican, represents a district centered in Colorado Springs, home of Focus on the Family, commentator Michelle Malkin  and a host of other conservative personalities and causes. The 5th Congressional District is so conservative that there’s not even a Democrat running there this year.

But Lamborn is facing a tough primary challenge on June 26 from Robert Blaha, a businessman who’s pouring plenty of money into his campaign and criticizing Lamborn as ineffective in Congress. The race is a nasty one, with both sides lobbing accusations against each other.

Publicity that shows Lamborn leading a congressional subcommittee and standing up to “inappropriate” images of naked children (though they were supposed to be looking at the bath water) potentially plays well in the 5th CD.

And it seems, as the Colorado Spring Gazette explained, that Rep. Lamborn has problems of his own:

The Pueblo District Attorney’s office has been appointed to investigate a formal complaint that a political ad by Congressman Doug Lamborn’s campaign broke the law when it criticized a bank co-founded by Lamborn’s political opponent.

At the center of the complaint is Integrity Bank and Trust, which was co-founded by Robert Blaha, Lamborn’s opponent in the Republican primary for the 5th Congressional District. Lamborn’s campaign accused Integrity in a campaign ad of being below average, which the bank says is not true.


A May 30, 2012 photo shows the yard of a home in Boonville, Ind. that was destroyed by mine subsidence in the area. The sinking ground destroyed the pool in the backyard as well as the concrete decking around the pool. Experts say hundreds of buildings in the Tri-State sit over abandoned mine shafts that could collapse at any moment. As mining operations ended at the old underground mines, most of them were simply sealed up and abandoned, leaving large voids below the surface.  (AP Photo/The Evansville Courier & Press, Jason Clark)

In other coal news and commentary:

— The Pump Handle had a guest post from Laredo, golden retriever dog, about the new Alpha Natural Resources mine rescue dog:

As Alpha Natural Resources’ parades Ginny around in-person and on its website—and probably pays big money for the publicity—the coal mine company isn’t fixing deadly hazards in its mines … You don’t need a dog’s super-sensitive nose to know something’s wrong at Alpha Natural Resources. It smells like fur-washing, and misplaced priorities, to me.

— The Bristol paper covered the big pro-coal, anti-Obama rally over in Virginia last weekend:

Betty and Denver Johnson’s two children, ages 13 and 7, wanted to name their baby brother after the industry their daddy works in.

So, Emory Daniel Coal Johnson was born.

“This brother and sister wanted to name him coal like a little lump of coal,” Betty Johnson, of Cleveland,Va., said of her youngest son.

For the Johnsons and many families throughout Southwest Virginia, coal mining isn’t just a job; it’s a way of life. And many believe that way of life is being threatened by federal regulations that crack down on the industry.

 — Erica Peterson at WFPL reports:

The federal government has filed a lawsuit against seven Eastern Kentucky coal companies, alleging the companies discharged waste into nearby valleys and streams without a permit.

Coal companies need to obtain permits from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers before mining in order to comply with the Clean Water Act. In the lawsuit—filed in the Eastern District of Kentucky—the federal government alleges the companies began surface mining and disposed of waste in valley fills and ponds without a permit. All seven companies are subsidiaries of West Virginia-based Trinity Coal Corporation.

Finally, Charleston writer Elizabeth Damewood Gaucher had a blog post about the Maria Gunnoe photo controversy that provides a glimpse of how a thoughtful West Virginian who doesn’t live life obsessed with coal industry issues, or suffering from the abuses of mountaintop removal, took away from that whole sorry episode:

We Appalachian people like to think ourselves hard to tame. The Hatfield McCoy feud movie was on The History Channel last week, and there was plenty of armchair whoopin’ and hollerin’ about how fierce our people can be. Big men, big guns, lots of chest puffing and tough talk. I wonder this week, as a little child shows who we really are in 2012, if we will own the truth.

We are vulnerable. We are alone. We have trusted and we have hoped for the best. In many ways, I think we have remained deliberately ignorant about what is all around us.

Will we ever get up and run? And if we do, is it too late?