Blankenship-Kennedy debate

June 24, 2010

Blankenship, Kennedy debate coal, climate change

Listen to the whole debate

By Erica Peterson

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January 21, 2010 · While Administration officials work to determine new policies to oversee mountaintop removal permits, a much more public debate on the subject was held Thursday in Charleston.

Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and environmentalist Robert Kennedy, Jr. faced off on coal, climate change and the nation’s energy future.

Thousands packed the auditorium and tuned in on television and radio for the debate at the University of Charleston.

Much of the debate was predictable, as Blankenship and Kennedy stuck to talking points.

Kennedy argued that the controversial practice of mountaintop removal is not only bad for the environment, but is so efficient that it’s eliminated most of West Virginia’s mining jobs.

“Don often talks about his concern for the workers of this state,” Kennedy said. “But this is an industry that through the ruthless pursuit of total efficiency has eliminated 90,000 jobs.”

Blankenship repeatedly mentioned growing powers like China and India that are producing much of the world’s pollution. He says worrying about something as trivial as mountaintop removal is ridiculous in the face of the world’s poverty.

“You talk about it being a sin to do surface mining,” Blankenship said. “The real sin is that the enviros want to focus us on 1 part per billion of iron or talk about windmills when tens of millions of people are starving to death.”

Kennedy is a big fan of wind power—he spent part of the debate talking about the benefits of wind and solar energy, while Blankenship argued that wind isn’t a viable energy source for the country.

In response to Kennedy’s call that West Virginia diversify its economy, Blankenship says coal is not the reason the state’s economy is coal-centric.

“It’s been time to diversify since 1890,” he said. “It’s always good to have a diverse economy. It’s not coal that’s keeping us from having a diverse economy except it lulls the politicians to sleep and they think because they have all this revenue off of coal and they don’t have to worry about the future.

“But the truth of the matter is the reason businesses aren’t in West Virginia is because they sue the daylights out of them, and because they tax them to death and because they don’t feel comfortable being in a state that has no punitive damage limitations.”

Blankenship is a notorious climate change denier. Kennedy said he didn’t want to discuss the subject between two non-scientists too much, but says 98 percent of research climatologists in the world believe global warming is real and manmade.

“I have a choice of believing the 98 percent or the 2 percent,” Kennedy said. “If you believe my 98 percent and we go ahead and try to reduce our carbon, we’ve gotten rid of the dirty fuel, we’ve made ourselves energy independent, improved our national security, improved our prosperity and quality of life and health for American citizens. If we believe Mr. Blankenship and his 2 percent, and they’re wrong, the whole of civilization is destroyed.”

Though the debate was moderated by Dr. Ed Welch, president of the University of Charleston, the two men occasionally addressed each other directly.

“You didn’t answer my question,” Kennedy said at one point. “First of all, the Clean Water Act has not been changed since 1970. And second of all, your own records show that your record of Clean Water Act Compliance is not improving, it’s getting worse. 12,900 violations in a single year, according to your records.

“My question to you, and I know you’re an honest person, I want to ask you this question: Is it possible to do mountaintop removal mining without violating the law?”

“I doubt it’s possible without having a single violation at a single time,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship went on to say that he thinks the regulations are too strict. He held a plastic water bottle filled with water he said did not meet the EPA’s criteria for clean water, but was crystal clear.

But both men found some common ground at the end of the debate.

“It sounds as if we have some agreement on that the world has to be part of the solution, not just the United States,” Blankenship said. “And that we have to have a competitive industry if we’re going to compete in the free world.”

“The two places I think we agree is one on free trade, I think we both oppose it,” Kennedy answered. “And second, I think we both think that carbon sequestration, geological carbon sequestration is a joke.”

“I appreciate that,” Blankenship said. “He’s right about one thing, it’s true.”

There was tight security at the event, and the debate itself went off without much disturbance other than an occasional burst of applause.

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