LIVEBLOG: RFK JR and Don Blankenship Debate Energy, Climate Change, And Mountaintop Removal

8:23PM EST

In the post-event press conference, we asked Don what he would do about climate change, and how he would run his company differently, if he was convinced that man-made climate change was real. His answer focused on comparing the differences between countries and their production of emissions per tonnage of coal. He thinks the US outperforms other countries like China and India.  

We also asked if he would meet with the treesitters who went on to Massey property this morning. He said that he “did not have time to meet with all the people who trespassed on his property.”  

More analysis to follow.

8:00PM EST

What do you agree on? RFK, Jr.: “That carbon sequestration is a joke.”

RFK, Jr. makes strong close on “deficit spending on backs of children’s future.” Speaks of “illusion of a few years of pollution funded prosperity.”

7:43PM EST

The exchange many were waiting for: Blankenship is asked about climate change and cites East Anglia scandal. He thinks that there is no way to predict tempature in 50 years. The climate changes all the time- issue is whether it is man-made or US-made. It is not either of these things. Even if it were, if the US stopped using coal, China would absorb that demand in a month. He suggests that solutions are futile.   

7:35PM EST

RFK, Jr cites record of depopulating towns throughout West Virginia to facilitate MTR. Blankenship says all people are compensated, no one is forced to leave. He feels that enviros depopulated Detroit by attacking American jobs. “WV is in better shape through the downturn than the rest of the country.”

7:30PM EST

Channeling Adam Smith, Blankenship sounds strongest when speaking about the natural tendencies of the market. He thinks that if solar or wind were smart things to build, then they would happen naturally. He recognizes that alternatives have a place, but says that coal investment still outpaces alternative investments in both China and the US. Also continually makes point that China will burn the coal that the US does not.  

RFK, Jr. makes his strongest points discussing the ‘true costs’ of burning fossil fuel. He says that oil and coal industries benefit from government subsidies and also from not paying for their clean-up costs- particularly those stemming from future health and environmental problems. They do not compete in a truly free market. Blankenship vaguely acknowledged these ‘externalities,’ but did not think that they eclipsed the benefits from coal. 

6:50PM EST

RFK: WV has been important to my family for a long time. 90% of extraction benefits companies not located in WV. Profits go out of state, minimal re-investment in the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the country. JP Morgan and Chase get a mention for their role in financing, and profiting from coal extraction. Coal leaves WV impoverished- cites two studies that show benefits of coal (severance taxes to state, payrolls, etc) are significantly outnumbered by environmental and health costs to state (one of these studies: coal-derived health costs exceed benefits from coal by 40%).

Blankenship: Emotional arguments are typical of environmental movement. 99% of electricity in this state comes from coal. Hundreds of millions in payroll to West Virginians. Counters one study by citing state budget deficits and need for coal profits. If we don’t want coal here “we’ll all need to learn Chinese.” We don’t need out-of-state folks with bully pulpits like Mr. Kennedy’s coming in to tell us how to run the state.

Affordable electricity and prosperity is what we need, and what the US demands. Health in the US is good relative to Congo or India, and folks there don’t have the luxury of fretting about global warming in 2050 or about sediments in water by parts per million.

6:22PM EST If we measured solely by the applause the debaters recieved from their intros, RFK, Jr. wins this debate.

5:36PM EST A small crowd for the coal-sponsored ‘Stand-up For Jobs’ rally. Sizeable security and national media presence.

4:28PM EST A lively welcome for those attending the debate in Charleston today between Don Blankenship and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:

3 activists from Climate Ground Zero and Mountain Justice have begun a treesit on a Massey Energy mountaintop removal mine site. I also got a photo and video of a banner drop from the South Side Bridge. The banner reads:

“Where does your ‘clean’ energy come from?” See a youtube clip here.

Banner on the South Side Bridge in Charleston, WV


I saw him as supremely relaxed, confident messenger of big coal. I see why he is paid the big bucks.. he completely delivered. Kennedy was a superb debater, and may have scored more classical debate points, but Blankenship controlled the message, speaking in short, smooth, bumbersticker phrases that connected locally. I hope this is available online… this should be studied carefully.