Sunday, October 25, 2015

"Friends of Coal": Shill for Mining Interests

The name "Friends of Coal" conjures wholesome, all-American images of hard-working miners, banding together with their peers, friends and neighbors in a grassroots movement dedicated to educating the public about the important role coal plays in our economy.

Friends of Coal's influence is felt throughout Appalachian coal-mining country and extends into the halls of state and federal governments. Now that's the power of the people! Right?

Well, not exactly - At least when it comes to the part about "the power of the people".

This isn't a group of coal miners and their families working to help one another or advocate public awareness. Friends of Coal is fronted by big coal itself, through their trade organizations.

A simple domain information lookup of (the official Friends of Coal website) reveals who's behind the scenes... namely the West Virginia Coal Association:

Registrant Organization:West Virginia Coal Association
Registrant Street: P.O. Box 3923
Registrant City:Charleston
Registrant State/Province:WV
Registrant Postal Code:25339
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.3043424153

Need more proof? Most by-the-people grassroots campaigns generally don't have millions of dollars at their disposal. Friends of Coal sponsors scholarships. They buy product placement at sporting events. You can buy a Friends of Coal license plate.

They've sponsored race car drivers and auto shows. Women can join the Friends of Coal Ladies' Auxiliary. They have a library of video spots on Youtube. And they contribute heavily to the coffers of politicians sympathetic to their cause.

One of the most visible of these is West Virginia Senate President Bill Cole. Cole likes Friends of Coal so much he's even given his gubernatorial campaign apparatus a similar name - Friends of Cole - and guested in their propaganda videos.

Still believe the Friends of Coal is just "a volunteer organization that consists of both West Virginians and residents from beyond our borders."?

This isn't the only supposed grassroots group funded by mining interests, either.

FACES of Coal states, "[we are] an alliance of people from all walks of life who are joining forces to educate lawmakers and the general public about the importance of coal and coal mining to our local and national economies and to our nation's energy security."

A quick lookup of their domain name reveals the proverbial man behind the curtain, namely the National Mining Association:

Registrant Organization:National Mining Association
Registrant Street: Suite 500 East
Registrant Street: 101 Constitution Ave, NW
Registrant City:Washington
Registrant State/Province:DC
Registrant Postal Code:20001
Registrant Country:US
Registrant Phone:+1.2024632600

Coal companies are declaring bankruptcy and trying to worm out of their pension and insurance agreements with their retired and disabled miners - while their executives hang onto wads of cash through huge bonuses.

At the same time, the associations they pour millions more dollars into are paying people fat salaries to waltz up and down the aisles of government and dance with our leaders.

Front organizations are not illegal per se, and one can't really blame big coal for doing everything it can to forestall the continuing decline in demand for what they produce. However, it does smack of dishonesty and hypocrisy.

The millions of dollars that big coal and their trade associations spend on staff, car shows, websites, advertising campaigns and lobbying should be paying retired miners' pensions. It should be providing health care to miners suffering from black lung and ruined backs.

It should go towards cleaning up abandoned mine sites that dot - and pollute - our gorgeous Appalachian countrysides and mountaintops.

That money could be spent on severance pay and retraining for miners who have lost their jobs due to company mismanagement or marketplace factors.

Instead, it funds a huge propaganda machine masquerading as the voice of the mining community. It pays lawyers and staff people who seek to influence state and federal government officials.

It also lines the pockets of mine executives who live far away from Appalachia and don't care about the damaged landscapes, communities and people they have left behind.

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