Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Democrats tip-toeing around Appalachia's coal decline ignore industry's downside, Ken Ward says

Democratic candidates paying lip service about ways to help struggling coal communities in Central Appalachia have missed a more critical point—that the coal industry has its drawbacks, longtime coal reporter Ken Ward Jr. writes for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. "Shouldn’t they even just once in a while make a larger point that life with coal as your only industry isn’t as rosy as some of the revisionist histories make it sound? Mines blow up. Slurry dams collapse. Workers die a slow, agonizing death from black lung. Pollution of the air, land and water makes people sick."

"If ever the Democrats needed a symbol of what the downside of the coal industry can do to communities," he was there in the flesh at Hillary Clinton's event Monday in Williamson, W.Va., Ward writes. Among the protesters at the event was former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship (under umbrella in photo) who last month received the maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $250,000 fine for his December conviction of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards at Massey’s Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners dined in a 2010 explosion.

Clinton has "come out for a federal law to toughen the penalties for mine safety crimes of the sort that Don Blankenship was convicted of," Ward writes. "But it is also true that the Democrats went to coal country not with a message about the downside of coal. The message is more about insisting that there’s no real intent to hurt coal, but that a transition to cleaner energy is coming, and the Democrats have a plan to help the coalfields adapt. That’s great. But somewhere in there, if they expect anyone to buy any of that, they’ve also got to make the case for why a clean energy transition is necessary. For one thing, that means they have to actually talk about—sit down now—climate change. If Secretary Clinton’s gaffe about coal jobs showed anything, it was a total inability to even try to sell this policy to the people whose jobs might be affected."

"Of course, this is all by design. Like much of the presidential campaign—so much of politics, period—Sunday’s event in Logan and Monday’s in Williamson were all theater," Ward writes. "Visits by both Clintons were carefully orchestrated. The press got to see just enough to do a story. Participants were carefully chosen—even the part where a laid-off miner gets to ask Secretary Clinton why she’s trying to put him out of a job."

One coal-state Democrat who has turned away from coal is Sellus Wilder, a farmer and former Frankfort city commissioner who is among seven candidates running in this month's Kentucky Senate primary—where the winner will face Republican Sen. Rand Paul. Climate Hawks Vote PAC, registered in Agoura Hills, Calif., has backed Wilder, saying it is “delighted to endorse a remarkably honest progressive who sees the irreversible decline of the coal industry — in Kentucky. Wilder has the political courage to tell Kentucky that Obama’s EPA isn’t to blame for the decline of coal, to call for a just transition for Kentuckians.” So reports Nick Storm for cn|2, a service of Time Warner Cable. Wilder also been endorsed by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, the state's leading social-justice and environmental group. Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, the favorite to win the primary, has criticized Obama's coal policies.

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