Thanks to Lexington Herald-Leader reporters John Cheves and Bill Estep, we have learned of a huge spending blitz by “pro” and “anti” forces in the continuing “war” between the coal industry and environmentalists.
For instance, while the pro-mountaintop mining organization Coal Mining Our Future was spending $1.1 million during a recent three-year period to further its cause, the environmental behemoth Sierra Club was busy working on its own three-year plan to spend $150 million in funds donated to its “Beyond Coal” campaign.
In Sunday’s chapter of the Herald-Leader’s yearlong look at poverty-related issues in eastern Kentucky since 1963, reporters Cheves and Estep also reminded us that in 2011, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (reportedly the seventh-richest multibillionaire in the United States) donated $50 million of his own fortune to assist the Sierra Club in its fight against coal-fired electricity. Meanwhile, the National Mining Association has donated $50 million of its own recently to help finance the Congressional campaigns of candidates it considers pro-coal. During the last two years, another group tied to the National Mining Association, FACES of Coal, has forked over some $5.5 million for its “grass roots marketing campaign.”
Cheves and Estep also reported Sunday that another $2 million has been disbursed from the Kentucky Coal Association’s Lexington headquarters “to promote the industry in Frankfort and statewide.” Some of that money came from the “Friends of Coal” novelty license plates sold on the coal association’s behalf by Kentucky’s state government, which itself spends another $400,000 annually on “coal education” in the state’s public schools.
As the Herald-Leader’s reporting confirms, the fight between the Appalachian coal industry and the environmental organizations is being fought by extremely well-financed armies on each side. By our calculations, both sides have already spent at least $208.6 million over the past three years on propaganda furthering their causes. Aside from the price of salaries paid to a handful of workers sent into Appalachia by the Sierra Club and the cost associated with putting on an annual pro-mountaintop mining rally in Knott County, it’s hard to imagine that any sizeable portion of these millions of dollars has benefitted a regional economy that could desperately use the help.
Something is badly wrong with the picture of the industry and environmental groups that has been brought to light by Cheves and Estep. Even though thousands of working coal miners have been laid off during the past year in Appalachia, one would be hard pressed to find a record of any statement of legitimate concern for the out-of-work miners and their families from any of the “pro-coal” or “pro-environment” groups who have been given millions to play with.
To add insult to injury, the cash-strapped Letcher County Board of Education was faced with deciding last week whether or not it could afford to pay its share of a salary for a teacher whose job it would be to help get mountain students qualified for jobs that aren’t related to coal. The cost? $15,000, and the board voted not to pay it.
In every “war” — even those fought by public relations experts with large megaphones — there is “collateral damage.” In this current skirmish between industry and environmental concerns, however, the only real destruction is being borne by jobless miners, their families, and the communities in which they live.