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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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.