Live from the RFK Blankenship Debate

posted by Rainforest Action Network

Well here I am at the University of Charleston where Robert Kennedy, Jr. and Don Blankenship have just finished a one and a half hour debate. I hope you tuned in via the live stream or the RAN tweet feed, we’ll have photos posted soon to our RAN flickr account.

Its been a lively evening for sure. Massey called in the reinforcements by way of a Friends of Coal rally, however the rain seemed to dampen the turnout. UC President Ed Welch moderated the event which was attended by over 950 people. By the time Kennedy and Blankenship took the stage, the auditorium was standing room only.

Welch opened the event by saying “Tonight we are going to try to recapture that art of argument. ”  He reiterated his intent to “Get beyond talking points” and get the participants to engage in a real conversation with each other rather than rehearsed sound bites. They certainly accomplished the art of disagreeing, but Welch wasn’t able to throw any questions too tough to throw these two off their game.

Both RFK and Blankenship appeared well rehearsed for the evening, opening comments were given before diving into topics of job loss, global warming, viability of reclamation, potential for transition to alternative energy, and energy independence.

After a coin toss the first question went to Blankenship, which allowed him to aire concerns of prosperity for this country and security, both of which in his opinion are solved by coal.

Bobby began by pointing out that these companies are “liquidating this state for cash”. Maybe that’s what Don meant by prosperity. But Bobby did not only point the finger to the profits of coal companies like Massey Coal, but also to the financiers of this industry such as JP Morgan Chase. He raised issues of poverty associated with communities closest to MTR sites repeatedly, however Don couldn’t seem to grasp this correlation.

Certainly one of my favorite parts of the evening was when Don held up a clear bottle of water to make a point that this is the water “we” are fighting to clean up. Suffice it to say he didn’t mistake this water for his drinking glass- water which he claims is discharge from a mine that failed EPA testing. Unfortunately, much of the water in areas where surface mining is practiced is laden with toxic heavy metals like selenium, often resulting in a brackish orange color and completely unsuitable for consumption.

You can imagine the responses when Welch brought up global warming, especially given Blankenship’s previous claims that “Global warming is a hoax and a ponzi scheme.”  Bobby prefaced the conversation by pointing out that neither he nor Blankenship are scientists and therefore they should rely on the science that does exist on climate change. He pointed out that 98% of scientists agree that global warming is happening, “2% disagree, some of them- not all of them are paid by Exxon and the carbon cronies. I have a choice to believe the 98 or the 2 percent.”

Blankenship’s retort was that the real issue is whether global warming is manmade, which, according to him “its clearly not. Its all totally nonsensical.” Better yet, he went on to say that regardless of what the climate is going to do, “there isn’t anything we can do about it.” Well I guess we should all just quit already and go sun tan on the beach.

Blankenship spoke a lot about the Indians and Asians, he seems mostly worried that they are bulking up their coal infrastructure so we will be left behind if we don’t do the same. I mostly wonder about a guy who walks around and still calls people Indians and Asians…

There was lots of discussion of making heavy machinery out of state, but the valid point that components of windmills and solar panels come from oversees was also noted. RFK was very outspoken that Blankenship came in with the intention of breaking the unions and employing out of state employees. But as long as people are starving in other countries, Blankenship feels this isn’t a fair comparison.

While there were many funny moments, no one matched the comical genius of Colbert who recently covered mountaintop removal and when talking about hillbillies said that, if you take away all their mountains, “They’ll just be billies”.

Blankenship seemed confused when RFK cited the number of violations Massey has been given. RFK claims this came from Massey’s own records which they are required to submit to the EPA. Blankenships blame of Sierra Club and the “enviros” as sensationalizing these claims seems an admission of guilt in itself.

All in all a great night, one that provided much entertainment and many thanks to UC for hosting and creating a safe, respectful evening.