Last night the CEO of Coal Giant Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, and Environmental attorney and advocate, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. squared off in a debate over mountaintop removal.
The moderator, University of Charleston’s president Ed Welch, said his aim was to push to participants to "get beyond their talking points and into a thoughtful engagement with one another." While the two didn't break far form the familiar rhetoric that we've come to expect from each respectively, the exchange was impassioned and engaging.
Much of their arguments focused on the economy. Appealing to "average" Americans, throughout the debate, each claimed to be the champion of the working man while trying to paint the opponents position as a destructive force in the economy. [Note: Analysis continues below videos]
“These companies are liquidating the state for cash, using these giant machines and 2,500 tons of ammonia nitrate explosives they detonate every day in the state of WV, it's the equivelent of a hiroshima bomb once a week. they're blowing the tops off the mountains to get at the coal seams beneath, then they take the rock, debris and rubble and they plow it into the adjacent river valley... it's all illegal.”
Quoting his father:
“They’re not just destroying the environment, they’re permanently impoverishing these communities... they're doing it so they can break the unions.”
“You talk about it being a sin to do surface mining, the real sin is that the enviros want to focus us on 1 part per million of iron or talk about windmills when tens of millions of people are starving to death.”
"Coal is what made the industrial revolution possible. It’s what won World War I and World War II and it’s the best hope for the future of this country... The mission statement for coal is prosperity for this country. This industry is what made this country great and if we forget that, we’re going to have to learn to speak Chinese."
"Look at the facts, if you look at 6.5 billion tons of coal used elsewhere in the world to raise the quality of their life its not going to be possible to change the temperature of this earth by limiting industry in this country and taking peoples jobs away"
"Don says we have to choose between environmental protection on the one hand and economic prosperity on the other. I say that's a false choice, and 100% of the times, good environmental policy is identical good economic policy."
Over the course of the debate the two traded jabs on topics from Clean Water Act violations to Climategate, and while the two found little common ground, they were able to agree in the area of globalization with their mutual opposition to free trade.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr is a lifelong environmental advocate. He serves as President of Waterkeeper Alliance and as Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper. His work for Riverkeeper earned him the honor as one of Time magazine's “Heroes for the Planet”. He is also a Clinical Professor and Supervising Attorney at Pace University School of Law’s Environmental Litigation Clinic and is co-host of Ring of Fire on Air America Radio. You can follow him on Twitter as @StopGlobalWarming.
Don Blankenship is the Chairman and CEO of Massey Energy Co., the fourth largest coal company in the United States. A resident of West Virginia, he started working for Massey in 1982 and worked his way up to CEO. He is also the director of the Center for Energy and Economic Development, the National Mining Association and the United States Chamber of Commerce. You can follow him on Twitter as @DonBlankenship.