“The questions that need asked in the wake of this deal between EPA and Jim Justice are less about whether Justice got special treatment, but whether really the entire mining industry gets special treatment — whether we should accept hundreds (or even thousands) of environmental and workplace safety violations as just the cost of doing business. … we should also be asking questions about exactly how candidates who proclaim that they would end this way of doing business would do so — and political skills to build the sort of support doing so would require, given the state’s and the Legislature’s overall politics… Some candidates are out there trying to turn the question of who has been running West Virginia all these years into some  partisan matter.  It’s really not…”
—Ken Ward

Please take the time to read Ken Ward’s entire piece here on Coal Tattoo. He makes some important points, especially as regards partisan politics here in WV.

The key, in my opinion, is really this: All our politicians should be working for the betterment of West Virginians, regardless of party.

Some do reach across the aisle. But many are not working for us; they’re working for the people who fund their campaigns. In WV, that’s often Big Coal—and they fund both parties. Importantly, they re likely pouring dark money into parties to run politicians they approve of… or simply to induce the party to avoid supporting candidates in resource heavy areas.

Ritchie County, for example, did not even have a Democratic County Convention. The state party doesn’t seem interested in having an active presence here; I have offered, called, emailed—even set up a website, waiting for approval. I suspect it would be inconvenient to have someone here representing the people who are suffering under the footprint of Antero. Execs would probably stop donating to high-profile Democrats like Tomblin if the WV State Democratic Party fought to help the people in this area.

But the interests of Big Coal (or oil and gas) don’t have anything to do with making our state a prosperous place for all of us. Instead, extraction embodies the fatal “flaw” Greenspan at last identified in his economic ideology. It was flaw in the structure, a flaw in the way the world works, as he put it.

And his flaw was that he believed CEOs would be acting in the best interests of their companies. His epiphany was that they were working in the best interests of themselves. Screw the company, screw the investors, the workers. CEOs got their millions, and then floated their golden parachutes to the next job.

Turns out, he discovered, people are greedy. Surprise! And being rich does not make you less greedy. It makes you moreso.

That particular naivete is tough to grasp, but ubiquitous, in various forms. There’s a strange belief out there that giving wealthy people subsidies makes them more generous and hard working, but giving poor people subsidies makes them greedy and lazy. We’ve known for decades that it’s false, yet the myth survives.

We know, in fact, that among the best ways to stimulate the economy is to start at the bottom, because when poor people get more income, they spend it, increasing the velocity of money, making the economy better for everyone.

In WV, we KNOW that the economics of resource extraction places the costs of that extraction on us… yet some politicians will continue to spout the myth.

For some, it’s because it makes them money; for others, it’s just that they’ve heard the lie a thousand times, and so they believe it. They are not aware of Greenspan’s flaw: his assumption was that business leaders would be working to make the business succeed. And our collective assumption here in WV is that state leaders are working to make the state succeed.

Some are; some aren’t.

Do you know which are which? Because it’s not a partisan thing, despite the messages about coal that wealthy donors and their political cronies are pouring into your ear like poison.

But what can we do “to catch the conscience of the King” here in West Virginia?

Presuming King Coal has a conscience is probably a mistake. What we need to do is elect people who have consciences. Then the changes will come.

Our challenge is to make certain that we elect people who aren’t out only to gain influence and wealth for themselves. We also must elect people who aren’t fooled by the Big Coal propaganda that they might be taking on faith. Research all your choices, regardless of party. We must demand better from our elected officials–and we can’t do that until we vote for better people. Democracy can’t work unless we hold dirty or deluded candidates accountable with our votes.

West Virginia can’t continue paying the costs of energy extraction for the rest of the nation. Talk about the tragedy of the commons! Our country owes us thanks for all we’ve sacrificed for them. If we want to get that black lung monkey off our broken backs, our nation can’t just focus on investing in clean energy technologies, leaving miners by the wayside. While clean energy is important, they also have to make serious investments in the communities they’ve used and abused. Our WV communities cannot afford to clean up this mess they left by ourselves.

They owe us.

Ensuring a real investment in rebuilding Appalachia should be a priority for both Republicans and Democrats.