Kennedy and Blankenship to Debate Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Robert F Kennedy, Waterkeeper's AllianceDon Blankenship, Massey Coal

>>>Update: Read the live-blog of the event here<<<

>>>Update: Watch the debate live here.<<<

So, is coal part of West Virginia’s future? This Thursday evening at 6:30pm Robert F. Kennedy Jr will debate Don Blankenship on the future of coal, mountaintop removal and economic opportunities for Appalachia. Kennedy, chief litigator for the Waterkeeper’s Alliance and Blankenship, CEO of WV’s largest coal producer Massey energy, are both titans on this issue.

Convened by the University of Charleston president Ed Welch, the debate has already garnered significant attention from the media and people across coal country. With the bright spotlight focused on dirty coal, the debate will likely have a big impact on public opinion. We can help shape that public opinion. Watch Colbert’s brilliant segment on mountaintop removal last night, and then read on for how you can help.

We can help shape this debate. With the extra focus on this debate, more people than ever will be looking to find out more, searching for coal terms, and trying to decide ‘who won the debate’. We can make sure that people get good information, instead of coal industry propaganda.

  1. Get friends, lists and networks to watch the debate
  2. Read-up on the context – who’s involved and what’s at stake
  3. Get the details on how to watch and who will be live-blogging Thursday night

Help spread the word. The debate is going to be exciting, totally worth watching and something that will bring in people with a mild interest in environmental and justice issues. Lets mount a big campaign to tweet, facebook, email and spread by word of mouth the details for this debate. During the sit-in in Copenhagen, we had thousands of viewers come to our site through twitter, and we can repeat that with hard work and creativity.

Ed Welch, the president of Charleston University, will moderate the debate. It came about through conversations with Ted Armbrecht, a Charleston city councilman. Welch then asked Blankenship and Kennedy to attend, hoping to increase the prestige of the university and serve the people of West Virginia by creating an open forum for honest debate. [link ]

Last week a peer-reviewed article in Science called for the end to mountaintop removal, stating that the damage is irreversible and too extreme. [link] This week another report projects the decline of coal in West Virginia because of low quality and vanishing reserves, resulting in a 50% decline in production in 10 years. [link] Because of the extreme effects, the report urges a rapid move away from coal for the sake of the state’s economic future.

Don Blankenship is notorious for buying off politicians and judges, denying global warming science and claiming to speak for the families of West Virginia [link], even as his company Massey energy kills them. In 2006 Blankenship vacationed with WV Supreme Court Justice Eliot Maynard, even as Massey was appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them. [link] Blankenship claims buying off politicians isn’t very effective, a claim that rings hollow in light of the millions he has poured into state level elections. [link]

Classic quotes from Blankenship in a recent interview with E&E news: “I don’t deny the science behind global warming, I deny that there is any science.” “My position is better for the world and my country.” “We might be in a cooling trend, and we need to burn more coal to reverse it.” And maybe my favorite, “No, we don’t need to keep researching carbon capture and sequestration. We’ve already spent billions and that money has been waste.” Blankenship claims to know what’s best for working families in West Virginia, even as his company cuts jobs, poisons people and levels the state. From a recent AP article:

…Blankenship is featured in the current issue of Rolling Stone Magazine in an article titled “The Climate Killers: Meet the 17 polluters and deniers who are derailing efforts to curb global warming.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr, son of the late senator Bobby Kennedy is a passionate advocate for ending mountaintop removal mining and protecting water supplies around the world. From wikipedia

In 1984, Kennedy joined the Riverkeeper organization to satisfy the 1,500 hours community service to which he was sentenced. He worked with the group to sue alleged polluters of the Hudson River. After his 1,500 hours were complete, the group hired Kennedy as its chief prosecuting attorney. Riverkeeper was founded in 1966 by a group of fishermen and residents from New York.

You’ll likely hear personal attacks against Kennedy, such as his notable 1983 arrest for heroin possessions. More from wikipedia:

In 1983, he was arrested in a Rapid City South Dakota Airport for heroin possession. A search of his carry-on bag uncovered 183 milligrams of the drug. Upon entering a plea of guilty, Kennedy, then 29 years old, was sentenced to two years probation, periodic tests for drug use, treatment by joining Narcotics Anonymous, and 1,500 hours of community service by Presiding Judge Marshall P. Young.

Kennedy’s recent statements on the issue:

“Mountaintop removal is the worst manmade catastrophe in the nation’s history,” he said. “It’s also an economic catastrophe for West Virginia. The coal industry, while promising prosperity to the state, has devastated communities across the state.”
“[Kennedy] claimed that the people who benefit from the coal industry the most are out-of-state investors, rather than the people in the mining communities, he said.” [AP article, printed in the Herald Dispatch]

“And those interests, what I call thieving interests, are liquidating the state of West Virginia for cash,” he said. “Why is it, my father asked this, why is it that the state with the richest natural resources in America is the second-poorest state in America?”

“You look at his mine sites, these people are coming from out of state. And they’re not sustainable jobs. Even by their own admissions, the jobs last five years to 15 years, tops. This is not something that’s enriching West Virginia.” [WV Pubcast]

“I am looking forward to meeting Mr. Blankenship in Charleston to finally engage openly in the critical dialogue over the economic, environmental and cultural impacts of mountaintop removal,” stated Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. “Mountaintop removal has devastated, corrupted and impoverished West Virginia, but it is not just a local issue. The devastating ripples from these blasts reverberate across the country and around the world, in the form of mercury in all of our watersheds, coal ash poisoning our drinking water, ozone and particulates that sicken our citizens, and escalating global warming. There is no more important issue facing our nation than our energy future. It’s my hope that this debate helps finally put the true facts about mountaintop removal in front of the American public” [link]

Lets put the true facts about mountaintop removal in front of the public, and end the destructive practice once and for all.

How to watch:

  • Live remote: A live broadcast will be shown at the Eddie King Gymnasium of the University of Charleston, which holds about 2,000. Admission is first come, first serve.
  • Watch the “Forum on the Future of Energy” live on WOWK, WBOY, WTRF, and WVNS, or on these websites:,,,, and  Listen live on West Virginia Public Radio.
  • Tune into West Virginia Public Radio Thursday, January 21 at 6 p.m. for live coverage of the debate.
  • The Waterkeepers Alliance has promised a live-feed on their website – we’re working on tracking down the link they will use.
  • In addition, Rainforest Action Network will be doing a lot of blogging on The Understory
  • Several posts will be featured on ItsGettingHotInHere, including reports from the Climate Ground Zero campaign, Coal River Mountain Watch and live-blogging during the event.

More ways to connect:

  • Follow RAN on twitter @ran
  • Follow Waterkeeper Alliance on twitter @waterkeeper
  • Become a fan of Waterkeeper on Facebook

Lets get the word out and make this the end of mountaintop removal coal mining.

9 Responses to “Kennedy and Blankenship to Debate Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining”

  1. 1 Rob Friedman Jan 19th, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    I’m extremely excited to watch this debate go down. I’ve interned with Bobby Kennedy at Riverkeeper for several years and he’s a very impressive man. He’s been one of the leading advocates of the Clean Water Act since the early 90s, and his work in domestic environmental policy is extensive and very broad. Blankenship has no idea what he’s going up against.

    I will say, though, that I sincerely hope that Blankenship steers clear of Kennedy’s past. It is, after all, Kennedy’s arrest that resulted in him becoming such an incredible environmental advocate. Everyone, even a Kennedy, trips up in life, but rarely do we see such a dramatic turnaround in a convict’s character as we’ve seen with Bobby. For Blankenship to target this would be a terrible mistake.

    Just a link correction… the debate will be livecast on Waterkeeper’s site at Should be a good one!

  2. 2 Lenny Kohm Jan 20th, 2010 at 5:20 am

    Millions of citizens speaking softly results in one very loud voice, and if that one voice is directed at the U.S. Congress it can stop mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. Please contact your Representative and Senators, urge them to cosponsor & support the Clean Water Protection Act (HR 1310), and the Appalachia Restoration Act (S 696). They are blowing up our mountains, and there oughta be a law!

  3. 3 Tommaso Jan 20th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    This debate is going to be EPIC! Can’t wait to see Mr. Coal Worker have to explain why his brutal tactics are killing jobs both in the short and long run.

  4. 4 seekjustice Jan 21st, 2010 at 10:06 pm

    Five things Kennedy should have said to Don: 1) LIAR! No man who takes pride in his contribution to union-busting can say that he cares about the American worker – it is an utter falsehood. 2) Show a single mining town that has seen prosperity and that will be evidence of your contribution to improving people’s quality of life. 3) You, fat cat CEOs, embody the industry, not your oppressed employees or their poor, disease-stricken pastors, schoolteachers, mothers, brothers, children, etc. 4) No environmental protection is to blame for lost jobs in the USA, our FTAs and the WTO are to blame for that. 5) Serious poverty that exists around the world is a direct result of the actions of people who think like Don Blankenship.

  5. 5 jim Jan 21st, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Each danced around the real issue: This country must pursue every kind of method to produce energy and keep it affordable (I have been saying that since I was in electrical engineering school in the 1970’s). Wind is cheap (and site specific) unless all of the windmills need maintenance. Solar energy is also site specific. Mr. Kennedy said his house makes more energy than he uses, but how many of us have those resources? I wish I could afford to make my home energy sufficient, but I do not have the money to convert or the manpower to maintain it. How about geothermal or hydroelectric…again site specific and not without environmental issues. Nuclear and garbage disposal sites could also be employed. This country has to try every kind of energy source and work to correct the problems associated with each industry. This country needs an energy policy that inspires environmental solutions and develops a partnership with industry.

    It seems the main argument is mountain top removal. Deep mining is ok. However, the impoundment that was mentioned as scaring the little boy was probably made by the refuse from underground mining. Underground mining methods frequently have 30% or more material they must impound while much of surface mining coal it taken directly to the power plants. Mr. Kennedy talked about the damage done by surface mining, but roads are built using the same methods and there is a lot more land disturbance due to roads. Recently a bridge was blown up across the Ohio River and a piece of the bridge went through a house. The media reported it in passing, but when similar occurrences happen in mining we get weeks of coverage.

    Canada, in its pursuit of tar-sand oil production, gave the oil companies a guaranteed floor for the oil price. Now Canada is a big oil producer. It would be silly to think this industry did not have environmental issues. The government is a partner rather than a regulator.

    One more point that seems to be avoided is the inspectors are told the must find and write violations and as a result many of these are frivolous. Many of the field inspectors have very little practical experience and their supervisors are frequently called to abate their findings. This practice runs the numbers of violations out of sight. Mining is an industry that employs many engineers with vast education and experience to design the mine, only to have an inspector with one year experience to stop the implementation.

    It is easy to criticize. You don’t have to have a solution to run your mouth. Personally, I would rather have a coal mine in my back yard than a nuclear power plant, but I will take which ever gives me the cheapest power bill.

  1. 1 Appalachian Coal Set For Big Decline, Protests & High Profile Debates or Not | Green Resouces Trackback on Jan 20th, 2010 at 1:24 pm
  2. 2 Greenhoof » Blog Archive » Appalachian Coal Set For Big Decline, Protests & High Profile Debates or Not Trackback on Jan 20th, 2010 at 5:16 pm
  3. 3 Concerned Young People Fight Mountaintop Removal « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Jan 21st, 2010 at 11:58 am
  4. 4 Coal Round-up: West Virginia, India, Australia and Iowa Push Back on Coal « It’s Getting Hot In Here Trackback on Jan 22nd, 2010 at 10:41 pm
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About Morgan

Morgan is a wandering climate activist, a job well suited to the editorial board of this site. He organized at Williams College until his aprubt and unfortunate graduation in 2008. There, he was a Chinese major, student body co-president and one of the leaders of Thursday Night Group, the campus climate action group. Since graduating, in no particular order, Morgan has worked on a community energy efficiency campaign in western Mass, co-directed NH SPROG for the SSC and worked on Power Vote in Cleveland. He spent traveled in China, networking with youth climate activists and learning about the solar hot water business. He worked on Long Island for a solar and wind company doing home evaluations and sales. And he spent the better part of a year in DC at the Avaaz Action Factory causing trouble for a good cause.

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