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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Facing Off the Faces of Coal


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View Ray Wan's blog posts
18 January 2011, 1:18 PM
Fakes, not faces, are served up by coal industry

Walk through an airport in Washington, D.C. and you may come across this ad by a coal lobbying group:

Photo of coal lobbying group ad. Credit: RAN.

Credit: RAN.

Now, aside from wondering how exactly the EPA would destroy Appalachian jobs, you may be puzzled about the campaign name: “Faces of Coal.” Who exactly are these faces and why are they not on this ad? You would think that using a real human face would have a stronger emotional connection than a generic stock image of a padlocked gate. Well, it turns out, the campaign did have faces—it’s just that, well, they too were as generic as the padlocked gate.

As the Rachel Maddow Show reported, the coal lobbying group actually bought stock photos of people, gave them fake names and presented them as the real “faces” of Americans who would be hurt if the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining were stopped.

The embarrassing expose was probably enough to convince the coal industry to replace the fake faces with images of padlock gates, but you can still visit their campaign website and see some generic stock photos in their full glory. (Don’t miss their “Our Supporters” section where they feature just one “supporter”—no photo provided, of course—who enthusiastically remarks that, thanks to mountaintop removal mining, the mountaintops “now resemble a gorgeous national park ... It was so much more beautiful, useable and accessible than it had been before.” )

Now, before you shake your head in disbelief and rush off to catch your flight, you may want to keep your eye out for another ad series about mountaintop removal mining, this time from Earthjustice:

Photo of Sid Moye.

Sid: "I worked for 50 years in order to have at least that for a hobby or a something I could do to sit and reflect on things, but that is gone now..." (Listen to Sid's story.)

Photo of Donetta Blankenship.

Donetta: "I am going to do all I can to try to help, to save people's lives, and help them so that they won't have to go through this with their water..." (Listen to Donetta's story.)

Photo of James Tawney.

James: "To me, nothing is worth the loss of our mountains and streams. Without drinkable water, there is no life..." (Listen to James's story.)

I can tell you exactly who the people in the ads are: Sid Moye, Donetta Blankenship, James Tawney. They are dedicated local activists from West Virginia who have seen their communities and the mountains they grew up with destroyed by mountaintop removal mining. No stock images, no fake names—just real stories of real people. Visit the campaign site and you can hear Sid, Donetta and James tell their own stories. Then you can add your own.

Trust them when they tell you that living next to a mountaintop removal mining site—with the constant explosions, flattened mountains, denuded hillsides and polluted streams—is no stroll in a national park. They should know—they are the real faces of coal.

In Illinois, we produces one of the lowest grades, dirtiest coals in production. Recently, Illinois' lawmakers used an income tax increase debate as a smoke screen to pass legislation binding consumers to 30 years of fixed rate natural gas purchases. The kick is that the natural gas is to be produced in a coal-to-gas plant! Dirty coal creating natural gas. This, while new natural gas deposits have been found and have lowered the price of natural gas. The legislation offers no price protections. One part of the legislation rode as a Trojan horse on a bill that addressed abuse of patients in medical facilities.

Republicans, who advocate for smaller government, and Democrats, who sell themselves as enviromental protectionists, together, created a big government tool to facilitate polluters to dirty the environment. What a world!

You have to live in Illinois to understand the expanse of corruption, both moral and legislative, that controls the state.

I lived in West Virginia for only three years as a third thru sixth grader. My dad worked for the chemical industry in Nitro and we lived in St. Albans in the hills above town. For a boy, it was wild, beautiful, untouched in most places, and yet had remnants of where people had lived long ago, but then left, leaving an old house with news papered walls which told a story and offered leads for a boy's imagination.

I remember going to school half days in fifth grade where my teacher was Garland Savilla who was the first male teacher I'd known. He loved opera, I believe, and singing was part of our daily classroom experience. Each of the three years in school in St. Albans we started the day with the pledge of allegiance and sang the West Virginia state song which began : "Oh the West Virginia hills how majestic and how grand......". and continued with a refrain "oh the hills, beautiful hills, how I love the West Virginia hills...". I can't remember much of the song now, fifty-two years later, but I know from our travels back into the hills in this wild state, how I experienced a sense of wonder looking from Hawk's Nest over the deep valley of the Gauley River far below.

It sickens me to imagine the state and many humble lives decimated by the greed and
need to dominate the landscape and poison the waters that big coal companies believe is their right. "Oh the hills, beautiful hills, how I loved the West Virginia hills ...."

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