Coal Tattoo

14_0395_02That’s a map that appeared this week as part of a U.S. Centers for Disease Control study that looked at the “most distinctive causes of death” in each state across the country.  The Washington Post had a write-up on this here, which is where I first saw the map and the study.

The concept is to pinpoint the cause of death for each state that, as the Post explained is the cause of death that stands out most relative to its national average.

Click to enlarge the list with the map, and you’ll see that for West Virginia, the most distinctive cause of death is “Pneumoconioses and chemical effects.”  That’s right, the cause of death that stands out in West Virginia relative to its national average is black lung  — the terrible disease that we know how to eliminate, but don’t because doing so might cost the coal industry too much money.

But gosh, if you follow what our elected officials are doing in Washington, or read what the leaders of our state’s media establishment are opining about, you would barley know that the coal industry hurts anybody in any way.  What West Virginia really needs, these folks keep telling us, is not better regulation of coal and creation of a broad new range of diverse industries and economies, but more coal. Lots more coal. And, they tell us, if we can just stop President Obama and his EPA, we’ll have more coal.

Take Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary today for West Virginia Metronews. In a nutshell, Hoppy argues that the absolute last thing West Virginia needs is any federal money or other assistance to find ways to diversify the state’s southern coalfields. Hoppy is apparently totally against the Obama administration’s efforts in the federal budget and with administration agency programs to give those coal communities help that they desperately need:

Washington’s answer is to throw some hush money at the problem.  This year, the POWER initiative will award grants using $28 to $38 million to pay for “planning and preparation” for the post-coal era.  The administration promises more money in future years, but that’s uncertain.

Obama supporters and a few desperate souls will appreciate Washington’s benevolence, cheering the federal government’s attempts to foster the long-desired “economic diversity” the state needs.  And it’s possible that the POWER creators actually believe central planning and yet another underutilized job retraining program will help.

Even if Washington’s efforts are in good faith, they pale when compared with the damage done by the administration’s policies. It’s as though the White House stabbed the coal industry in the heart with the right hand, while the left hand offers a tissue to help clean up the mess.

As we discussed yesterday, what Hoppy and his buddies among the state’s career campaign consultants really want is to be able to run Republican candidates in 2016 in another anti-Obama campaign:

What POWER will do is give the national Democratic Party some cover, a useful political diversion.  Federal Democratic candidates campaigning in coal country in 2016 can try to temper the impact of the EPA’s decisions by pointing to ways Washington is helping to, according to the White House, “build a better future.”

If politicians really wanted to help they would reign in the EPA and/or spend money on badly needed infrastructure. But that’s not going to happen, at least not with this administration or with the current direction of the national Democratic Party.

Maybe all you really need to know about Hoppy’s latest is that it drew quick praise on Twitter from the guy who thinks he knows more about climate science than pretty much every climate scientist in the world:

LingerHoppyOf course, Hoppy’s continual opposition to the EPA’s plan to begin to address the climate crisis offers no alternatives, no plan for how West Virginia could do its part to move the nation and the world along down a path toward an energy system that doesn’t threaten to cook the climate.

More broadly, his line of thinking does little but encourage the belief that government is something apart from ourselves, rather than being a place where we, as communities, come together to solve broad problems and help each other. He says that Obama’s plan to help struggling coalfield communities “brings to mind the late President Ronald Reagan’s famous admonition: “I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’””

Whenever folks like Hoppy go into their anti-federal government mode, I can’t help but think of the debate scene from West Wing:

Even more importantly, though, is that the line of thinking here cynically gives people all across our coalfields false hope that if they just jump on the anti-EPA bandwagon — and elect more Republicans and more anti-EPA Democrats — that another big coal boom is just around the corner. It wrongly tells young people that a better day is coming, without the hard work of piecing together new and more diverse communities and economies. It ignores the reality that coal’s downward spiral is driven in large part by the new technologies that have created a huge supply of cheap natural gas, by the continuing improvements and competitiveness of renewable energy, and — especially in Southern West Virginia — by the long-forewarned mining out of the best coal seams.

Change is coming, and no amount of jumping up and down and screaming about EPA is going to stop it. Neither is false hope from candidates, campaign consultants and commentators.