Last night, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Don Blankenship of Massey Energy—a company so bad it brought businesses Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Intel Corporation, and Lockheed Martin together with do-gooders Common Cause and Public Citizen to fight it in one legal battle—had a little debate about the future of the West Virginia coal industry.
The debate before an invite-only audience of 950 was organized by University of Charleston President Ed Welch whose aim was to start a discussion in his school's auditorium that would go beyond talking points and reach toward compromise.
His hopes were dashed quickly. Kennedy, the top attorney for the environmental group Waterkeeper Alliance, brushed off his first question to declare mountaintop-removal mining a "sin" that damages Appalachia's environment and people to enrich a wealthy few in a speech peppered with statistics and references to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Environmental regulations were not responsible for lost mining jobs, Kennedy declared, but mountaintop removal has busted unions and eliminated tens of thousands of workers.
Blankenship responded in kind, hailing his industry the life-blood of West Virginia and painting Kennedy as an outsider with an extreme environmentalist agenda that assaults "people who are teaching your Sunday schools and coaching your Little League."