About two years ago, a mucky muck at another environmental group campaigning against coal told me he thought we were winning against coal, but he couldn’t figure when the backlash was coming. I said the backlash was already happening and targeted coalfield residents like Maria Gunnoe and Larry Gibson. People in the coalfields who speak out against King Coal in it’s own backyard and face violence on a daily basis. The mucky muck took a dismissive tone and said he was waiting for a bigger national backlash from the coal industry.
But, the struggle on the ground in West Virginia is a microcosm of national events.
In the past year, we’ve seen campaigns against mountaintop removal escalate and now, as a comrade from the coalfields told me yesterday, we are winning the media war in West Virginia. The occupations,lock-downs, line crossings, tree-sits and dragline takeovers are having an effect. Support is growing and word is spreading, but so is the backlash.
Furthermore, this time a year ago, we’d stopped over half of the 150+ Cheney Energy Plan proposed coal fired power plants. More and more of them are still being stopped. This has been the result of hard campaigns fought in legal, political, regulatory, grassroots and direct action realms. (Last month, we found out Dooda Desert Rock, a proposed coal plant in the southwest, was stopped after multi-layered campaigning including a many year occupation by Dine’ grandmothers.) Public opinion is turning on the issue and utility companies (and their front groups) are fighting hard in Congress for a weak climate bill and green-washing themselves to the public.
King Coal is worried about their public image not only on coal plants, but on coal extraction as well. Last week, a new multi-state public relations campaign called FACES of Coal was officially launched in Kentucky. Its aim is to educate people outside the mining regions about the benefits organizers say coal brings to the state: low electricity rates that attract other industries, high-paying jobs in poor areas, and flat land for development where there used to be unusable mountainsides.
Yeah that’s right, King Coal is mobilizing to paint themselves as a “kinder, gentler” mountain and climate destroyer and wrecker of lives. The front group that has formed to improve coal’s image is called FACES (Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security). The above advertisement is part of their new campaign. Their flashy PR advertisements targeting activists who are fighting big coal portray them as scary extremists out to bring down capitalism and America (we’ve seen that time after time from industry.)
When I think about the kinder gentler King Coal several things come to mind:
*I think of the Massey wife who leap out of the crowd at the June 23 protest and civil disobedience at Marsh Fork Elementary and assaulted Goldman Winner and WV community leader Judy Bonds.
*I think of the hundreds of Massey employees that showed up at Marsh Fork that day looking for a fight.
*I think about the drunken coal thugs that showed up Larry Gibson’s annual Keeper of the Mountains July 4th picnic and threatened several people including small children. Interestingly enough, the star coal thug in this video was eventually picked up by the state police for his behaviour and let go without bail (as opposed to the enviros that get high bail on a regular basis for actions in the coalfields.)
*But i mostly think about Massey CEO Don Blankenship who spends millions organizing anti-environmentalist rallies and amping up the extremist rhetoric against enviros fighting mountaintop removal and labor unions which organize for workers rights on his work sites. While he doesn’t directly tell his employees to act like criminals, his rhethoric so inflames them to act as they do.
Now industry wants to take this to the national level. So do we, nothing could be better than taking the real FACES of coal to the American public and show the real extremism that they propagate.