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View from the Chair
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by Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair | 2010

Killer Coal, Killer Oil. So who's the quilty party?

Twenty-nine dead in Upper Big Branch. Eleven dead in the Gulf. Coal kills, oil kills. It is utterly tragic that these good men were lost. These brothers, fathers, husbands and more.

And we know that coal and oil kill others than these stalwart miners and oil rig workers. Once they burn to feed our addiction to “cheap” and plentiful energy, they’re killing the atmosphere and cooking the planet into something altogether inimical to our human culture and to Earth’s natural systems.

I recently heard a loudmouth castigating coal miners. “How do you sleep at night, knowing what you’ve done?” This was wrong. The coal miner and the oil driller are guilty, yes — of trying to earn a decent living and to provide for their families. This is their moral commitment. Please, comfortably affluent white-collar person, you have no right to sneer at them.

But somebody is guilty. Somebody is guilty of twisting the laws. Somebody is guilty of ignoring worker safety in the interest of “running coal.” Somebody is guilty of collusion with the coal and oil barons. Somebody is guilty of fomenting an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Somebody is guilty of corrupting the leadership role they swore to uphold.

Somebody somewhere is guilty of all these things — and more, much more. Where are these people? Some are in their corporate offices in Richmond and Pittsburgh. Some are in agencies in Charleston and Washington. Some thump the bully pulpit at the podium in the highest offices in their state or nation.

We get the same old response. A lot of dramatic boo-hooing, then the finger pointing, the who-could-have-ever-foreseensuch-a-thing, then the steely resolve that this must never happen again, then it blows over until the next tragedy.

Who are they, the ones who should be leading: The coal company CEO? Our governor? The state legislature? Congress? The president? I say yes, yes, and yes. But sadly, the operative term is “should be leading.”  Sadly, because every one of these seems to have abdicated responsibility for the future of our citizens in West Virginia and the future of our planet.

Do they fail us because they’re stupid? No, not at all. No matter how repugnant, they are not stupid. Most of them know the truth.  Most of them can discern the future. Most of them understand what needs to be done. But there’s many a slip twixt knowing what must be done and doing it. That is our state’s and nation’s fundamental problem.

Everyone from Don Blankenship to Barack Obama knows — knows that we cannot continue our energy profligacy, that we must change our ways, that we must transition to sustainable clean energy, that we must assure economic opportunity for workers in the transition, and that the future itself is at risk. We know that they know. What we must learn is how to demand that they act responsibly, and immediately, to channel our state and nation in the direction of the glorious future of which we are certainly capable.

The knowledge is there ... Now to find the will.

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