A long, long list of lies have been perpetrated by industrialists to confuse ordinary people about how, and by whom, the world is being destroyed. Proceedings in a Federal courthouse in West Virginia are about to bring some clarity to the issue. The quality of the lies has been uniformly low — none of them stands up to a moment’s rational examination. Their success rate, on the other hand, has been high; a dismaying proportion of Americans believes that the people who are exploiting them the most are their best friends, and the people who are trying to save them are their enemies. There is no worse example than the bogus “War on Coal,” imagineered by coal-mine operators as a unifying theory of everything bad that happens: Obama did it, as part of his “War on Coal.”
As propaganda, the War on Coal was a brilliant stroke. How else could an industry whose air pollution is destabilizing the entire planet, whose operations are obliterating mountain ranges, poisoning groundwater, and routinely killing and sickening its employees, instantly make itself seem a blameless victim of outside aggression? Its audacity was exceeded only by the gullibility of a grateful nation, which never paused to remark on the oddity of Coal declaring a war on itself, on behalf of an enemy that did not seem to be aware of it.
The only aggression committed against Big Coal recently was the assault of Fracking Gas, which glutted the market with cheap fuel for power generators, causing them to abandon coal like it was a poor relative. Compared to that, the effect of some new pollution regulations on aging (40+ years old) power plants — regulations that have not even been drafted yet, let alone put into effect — are hardly a cause of war, as the industry claims.
If by War on Coal they mean an effort to restrict its pollution, and if they really want that effort completely abandoned, then they should be clear that the result will be that we all live in the conditions now prevalent in Beijing, where on a clear day you can’t see for nothing. People recently returned from visits there report it takes six weeks to stop coughing.
The War that is under way here is not on coal, but on coal miners, their families and neighbors. It is not being prosecuted by the government, or by Obama, but by the coal industry itself. This war is not a metaphor. It has real casualties, such as the 29 miners killed in action in the Big Branch Mine in 2010, dead because their bosses would rather wring the last dollar out of a mine than see to the welfare and safety of their employees. Incidence of Black Lung Disease — an entirely preventable, deadly side effect of breathing coal dust — has increased tenfold in ten years. Would you believe 75,000 fatalities since 1968? Now, that’s a war; fewer people were killed in Vietnam. It is said that victims of mine disasters get headlines, victims of Black Lung just get headstones.
Through all of this misery and death, Big Coal has skated, not only escaping justice but deflecting onto others the revulsion it so richly deserves. But now comes the one part of the American Federal Government that appears to be still in working order, still adhering to the lofty and admirable goals of an earlier time: the United States Department of Justice.
Last week, a federal grand jury indicted the fattest cat of the Big Coal fat cats — Don Blankenship — of enough war crimes to send him away for 30 years if he is convicted. No, they didn’t call them war crimes — he is charged with conspiracy to deliberately violate mine safety regulations, obstruction of government inspectors and investigators, all in connection with the 2010 Big Branch Mine explosion.
In a country where the Supreme Court pats industrialists on the head and tells them they have every right to corrupt the political process with their money; where federal and state regulators pat them on the head and tell them to go right ahead and pollute, and maim, and kill, and we’ll look the other way; where politicians fall over themselves in slavish adulation of the “job creators,” and promise never to tax them or regulate them in any way; it is refreshing indeed to learn that federal prosecutors still have the will and the means to hand the Don Blankenships of this world a summons to a higher accounting.
They are the War Criminals, and we badly need to see them standing in the dock of justice.