Dr. James Hansen agrees to debate a major coal mining company CEO in West Virginia


Last week the President and CEO of Massey Energy, Don Blankenship, when he learned Dr. James Hansen would be joining protesters tomorrow in a demonstration against mountaintop removal for coal mining, publicly challenged Hansen to a debate on coal burning and climate change.  Along with hundreds of others, Hansen is headed to West Virginia to participate in tomorrow’s demonstration, and is expected to risk arrest by marching with protesters to the private property of Massey Energy to make a set of demands.  Hansen took Blankenship up on the offer.  (We hope the debate goes forward and that someone records it!)

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The “Coal Tattoo” blog on the West Virginia Gazette announced last week that Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Company, upon learning that Jim Hansen would be participating in a major civil disobedience action protesting mountain top removal tomorrow (June 23), challenged him to a public debate on the topic of coal burning and climate change. 

Hansen announced today he’s taking the Massey executive up on his offer, and will even one-up him:  if Blankenship is a no-show, Hansen will address the public anyway, on Wednesday June 24 (location TBD). 


Blankenship said:  “I’m more than willing to invite Dr. Hansen to have a factual discussion about coal mining in West Virginia, which provides thousands of jobs in the state and provides low-cost energy to millions of Americans.  I look forward to hearing from Dr. Hansen, as I’m sure a productive dialogue – not publicity arrests – is what Dr. Hansen, a university professor who values an exchange of ideas, surely, must desire.”

Blankenship was appointed Chairman and CEO of A.T. Massey Coal Company in 1992.  “Under Blankenship’s direction and leadership, the period of growth continued and accelerated with several acquisitions taking place and a number of mining subsidiaries being established,” according to the company website.  He’s been clear about his position on global climate change.  Like Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), he doesn’t “believe in it.”  This YouTube clip sums it up:

Massey’s website declares:

Today, Massey produces, processes, and sells bituminous coal of steam and metallurgical grades, primarily of low sulfur content, through its 22 processing and shipping centers, called “resource groups,“many of which receive coal from multiple coal mines. Massey currently operates 35 underground mines and 12 surface mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Later this year, Massey announced plans to aggressively expand its operations in Central Appalachia.  Several new mines are scheduled to be opened and existing mines are being expanded through projects beginning in 2007 and continuing through 2009. Total coal production is planned to increase from approximately 40 million tons in 2007 to approximately 50 million tons in 2010.

It’s the 10% growth per year and all the additional planned mining that has local citizens and advocates for sensible climate change policy up in arms.  That, and a not-so-hot environmental record. 

Under the category “Environmental Performance” Massey brags:

In 2007, we focused our efforts on improving our environmental performance.  As a result of our intense focus on exceeding environmental requirements, our company’s subsidiaries achieved a 36 percent reduction in citations from state regulatory agencies.

Our Logan County Mine Services resource group – winner of Massey’s coveted Green Miner Award for 2007 – led the company with a 70 percent reduction in violations from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. 

Massey continues to devote time and resources to mitigation efforts and community improvement projects.  For example, Massey donated the land to facilitate the construction of the Earl Ray Tomblin Center, a conference and meeting facility, in Logan, West Virginia and created both Indian Rock Creek Park near Craigsville, West Virginia and Grant’s Branch Park in Stone, Kentucky, recreational areas frequently utilized by local residents.  Massey Members, financial contributions, and equipment have also supported a variety of highway and stream clean-up efforts.

So, a reduction in actionable offenses and a couple of recreational areas is what the Massey Energy Company wishes to offer up as evidence of good environmental stewardship?

In 1988 Hansen was the first scientist to testify before Congress that an observable global warming was underway.  In recent years, he has decided to take his climate science to the streets.  He appears to have made a solid leap into the world of direct action and civil disobedience, in opposition to coal burning.  He has already participated in several public protests, including one this past March at a coal facility near Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.  He has petitioned world leaders, including President Obama, to place a moratorium on all new coal-fired power plants absent carbon sequestration.  He has called the trains carrying coal to power plants “death trains” and coal-fired power plants “factories of death.”  (See his editorial, “Sword of Damocles”:

Hansen is not alone.  Another familiar climate change icon has spoken on this:

“Mountaintop removal is a crime—and ought to be treated as a crime.”  —Al Gore

Tomorrow, June 23—along with actress Daryl Hannah (see “Big names expected to take on big coal”)— Hansen will be in West Virginia to participate in a non-violent civil disobedience (NVCD) action.  Hundreds of people are expected to show up at Marsh Fork Elementary School, which sits adjacent a mountain top removal site and 400 yards away from a three-billion-gallon coal slurry impoundment, very similar to the one that burst at a TVA coal fired power plant near Kingston, Tennessee (see our post).  From the school the protesters will walk, peacefully, to the nearby Massey Energy offices to deliver a list of demands.  They plan to risk arrest by trespassing on company property in order to be heard. 

Marsh Fork Elementary School on Coal River Road in Naoma, Virginia

Hansen’s letter to Blankenship:


June 22, 2009

Dear Don,

  Thanks for your offer to publicly discuss climate change, human-made global warming, and its implications for the coal industry in general and mountaintop removal in particular.  That is an excellent suggestion.  I would be glad to participate in a format that allows the public to become better acquainted with the science and its implications.

  I had planned to return to a meeting in Washington immediately after the activities at your place on Tuesday, but to accommodate a public discussion, I will stay another day.  I expect that we will be able to find a school auditorium that would be well-suited for presentations and discussion.  I am scouting that out now and will get back to you with specific information.

  Usually I spend close to an hour on a climate science discussion for the public, but I can shorten that to about 40 minutes, so that you can have a similar time to present your views, if you would like that much time.  You are welcome to speak either before or after me.  After we have both spoken, we can open it up for discussion with the public.

  If for any reason you are unable to find time for this discussion on Wednesday, I will give my talk anyhow.  Hopefully the public will then be able to get back to you with information and questions about how your practices relate to climate, the environment, and the future that will be faced by young people and future generations.

  Thanks again for your helpful suggestion.  I very much agree on the importance of reaching out to the public and increasing public understanding of scientific matters.

  Jim Hansen

Related News:

A group of NGOs, including Coal River Mountain Watch that is helping to organize the demonstration, has filed a petition with the US Environmental Protection Agency to take back control of West Virginia’s Clean Water Act authority over wastewater management.

The US Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, is scheduled to hold a hearing this Thursday June 24 on “The Impacts of Mountaintop Removal Mining on Water Quality in Appalachia.”

Cross-posted on Daily Kos, 6-23-09

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