Thursday, December 18, 2014

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. labels coal "an Outlaw Enterprise", McConnell defends the outlaw

Writing in the NY Times Kennedy takes on "King" coal.  That industry is dirty by its very nature but also dirty in terms of what it does to the environment and how it corrupts politics.

Bear with me on this.  I'll quote from Kennedy's op-ed on the specifics of the culture of corruption of coal, but there is a larger issue at stake.

On Nov. 13, federal prosecutors in West Virginia announced that Donald L. Blankenship, the notorious former chief executive of the Massey Energy Company, once Appalachia’s biggest coal producer, was charged with widespread safety violations and deceiving federal inspectors. In 2011, the Mine Safety and Health Administration found that safety violations led to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners at the Upper Big Branch mine. Holding the head of a mining company responsible for such violations is an unprecedented move in the coal industry.
Then, on Nov. 24, a Kentucky judge issued a scathing judgment against a Frasure Creek Mining settlement involving over a thousand Clean Water Act violations and years of false data on pollution-disclosure reports.
Coal is an outlaw enterprise. In nearly every stage of its production, many companies that profit from it routinely defy safety and environmental laws and standards designed to protect America’s public health, property and prosperity. In fact, Mr. Blankenship once conceded to me in a debate that mountaintop removal mining could probably not be conducted without committing violations. With a business model like that, one that essentially relies on defiance of the law, it is no wonder that some in the industry use their inordinate political and economic power to influence government officials and capture the regulating agencies.

You can read more in the Kennedy op-ed about the specifics of King Coal's environmental misdeeds in Appalachia and what Kennedy has been doing about it.  The bottom line for Kennedy is this:

The Kentucky judgment and the indictment of Mr. Blankenship are two steps in the right direction, but there is a long way to go. If we are to save Appalachia, we first need to save our democracy by getting the dirty money out of politics. As long as campaigns are fueled by donations from King Coal, state agencies and politicians in Kentucky and West Virginia will continue to be servile cogs in a destructive machine. That mechanism is uprooting America’s purple mountain majesty, poisoning its rivers and people, and destroying the communities of Appalachia.

Hmmm.  "Servile cogs"?  I wonder if we can be more specific.

The AZ Daily Star today carried a report on Mitch McConnell's view of King Coal and how he plans to use his new powers as majority leader to derail environmental regulation in the US.  Here are snippets from the AP interview.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged on Wednesday to do all he can to stop President Barack Obama's coal plant regulations, saying a White House "crusade" has devastated his state's economy.
The Environmental Protection Agency "has created a depression in my state and it's done a lot of damage to the country all across the country with these efforts to essentially eliminate coal fired generation," he said in an Associated Press interview.
"I couldn't be angrier about it and whatever we can think of to try to stop it we're going to do. ... I know it won't be easy with Barack Obama in the White House."
McConnell takes over the Senate leadership and its new Republican majority in January. He reaffirmed plans to make approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas, as the first order of business. He said other moves to counter Obama's environmental policies await, but he did not offer details.
The Obama administration is trying to get fossil-fuel fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The White House also recently announced a deal with China to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
Asked if the Senate had any obligation to address global warming, McConnell said, "Look, my first obligation is to protect my people, who are hurting as the result of what this administration is doing." [Translation: "no".]
He said that despite the administration's "phony deal" with China, "coal is booming elsewhere."
"Our country, going down this path all by ourselves, is going to have about as much impact as dropping a pebble in the ocean," McConnell said.
"So for the president to pursue his crusade at the expense of the people of my state is completely unacceptable, and I'm going to do any and everything I can to stop it," McConnell said. Much of the decline of the Kentucky coal industry is actually due to the rise of other energy sources, such as cheaper natural gas, as well as cheaper coal from other states; and Obama's regulations have not all taken effect.

There are lots of things wrong here, but I will take on three of them.  

Coal as a dominant source of energy is on the decline for reasons other than environmental regulation.  Like other fossil fuels, the coal industry is threatened by renewable energy sources like solar.  So McConnell is being disingenuous in his claims about the cause of coal's decline in Kentucky.

Second, if we were to accept McConnell's logic about "dropping a pebble in the ocean" we would never do anything about any problem - ever.  None of our social safety net would be in place.  MLK would never have organized marches.  And Gabby should give up her crusade for gun safety.  So the "pebble" defense is bogus.

Finally, McConnell is claiming some kind of moral high ground with his defense of "the people of my state".  He should be called out on that one.  King Coal is poisoning his people - read some of the details on that in Kennedy's op-ed.  King Coal is poisoning the pristine environment of Appalachia and Kentucky specifically.  And they are getting away with it by their influence over "servile cogs" like McConnell.  That is a morally indefensible position and we should not let Mitch "pebbles" McConnell get away with it.

More generally, McConnell's stance on Kentucky coal is a signal of things to come in a Republican-dominated congress.  Forget bypartisanship.  You can welcome compromise if you like with the guy who swore to make Obama a one-term president.  (You know -- the guy who cannot see the ripples because of the size of the pebble.)  The last bulwark we have against the corruption of corporate influence over American politics is President Obama and the power of the veto.  I hope he uses it.

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