Amid Controversy, Johns Hopkins Quietly Drops Black Lung Program – ABC News

See the original article HERE.

By Matthew Mosk Randy Kreider Sep 30, 2015, 6:17 PM ET
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine revealed today that it has quietly but permanently shut down its controversial black lung unit and is no longer employing the unit’s head doctor, two years after an ABC News investigation into allegations the hospital’s readings for black lung favored coal companies over ailing miners.

Johns Hopkins first suspended its black lung unit and announced an internal review in 2013, two days after the broadcast of a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that found that the doctors at the renowned hospital who had for years read X-rays on behalf of coal companies virtually never found miners to have serious black lung disease — assessments that helped prevent miners from obtaining much-needed financial support.

At the center of the report was the work performed by Dr. Paul Wheeler, who headed the black lung unit. Wheeler found not a single case of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 cases decided since 2000 in which he offered an opinion, a review by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity found. In court testimony, Wheeler said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung, a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program, was in “the 1970’s or the early 80’s.”


FULL COVERAGE: Black Lung Investigation

For Some Miners, Black Lung Proof Comes Only in Death

Johns Hopkins shuttered the black lung unit without releasing the results of their internal review — results that Sen. Casey, D-P.A., has demanded be made public.

“There are still many unanswered questions about the black lung reading program under Dr. Wheeler,” Casey said in a statement to ABC News today. “Many of my constituents and their families have suffered due to wrongful denials of black lung benefits. I would like to repeat my call for Johns Hopkins to release the findings of its internal review into its black lung reading program.”

In his interview with ABC News for the original report, Wheeler stood by his record. “I’ve always staked out the high ground,” he said.

Wheeler said that he could not conclude the coal miners had black lung without first seeing a biopsy — a step not required by the government program that provides financial support to coal miners who have fallen ill with the deadly disease. He said other maladies were as likely, or more likely, to cause lung damage that could be mistaken as black lung.

“That’s my opinion, and I have a perfect right to my opinion,” he said.

For his work, coal companies paid Hopkins $750 for each X-ray he reads for black lung, about 10 times the amount miners typically pay their doctors.

One leading expert in black lung, Dr. Jack Parker of West Virginia University, called Wheeler’s X-ray readings “intellectually dishonest.”

Johns Hopkins told the Center for Public Integrity and ABC News today that Wheeler had retired and that the unit he oversaw would not be restarted.

The acknowledgement of the end of the program comes as Casey and other Democrat lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Virginia renewed their push for legislation to reform the federal black lung benefits program.

PHOTO: This occupational health image shows the lungs of a coal worker with Pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung Disease.CDC
This occupational health image shows the lungs of a coal worker with Pneumoconiosis, or Black Lung Disease.

The reform legislation, known as the Black Lung Benefits Act of 2015, will “strengthen” the black lung program by allowing miners or their survivors to reopen cases “if they had been denied because of medical interpretations that have subsequently been discredited” and “helping miners review and rebut potentially biased or inaccurate medical evidence developed by coal companies,” among other things, according to the lawmakers.

“We can’t stop working at this issue until we achieve a basic measure of justice or those miners who suffer from black lung disease,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-V.A., said in a press release. “We know the black lung claims process is badly broken and in need of reform to target unethical legal and medical practices and to give miners a fair shot at justice.”

See the original article here

The Truth About Coal

Copyright Associated Press

When I was a kid, they told us about acid rain in school. I even remember seeing a news broadcast in which the reporter, standing in the middle of a cemetery with an umbrella, explained the damage it was causing to the tombstones. The solution was to put scrubbers on all the coal fired power plants, or “pollution controls” as they called them, to make everything okay. That was the end of my concern, as I’m sure it was for millions of people living in North America.

These days, I realize that there is a big difference between pollution “controls” and pollution “elimination.” When the scrubbers were put onto coal fired power plants, they were not making the toxins disappear, they were just removing the toxins so they could be put elsewhere. Since the Kingston coal ash spill, we now know that those toxins still exist. We are connecting the dots between communities who live near coal ash dumps and their ever increasing health issues.

The $18,000,000 lawsuit for a coal ash worker’s death is a major step in helping us to understand that coal is not a simple rock that burns. I believe that anyone who has taken a small chunk of coal and lit it on fire, then watched the black smoke pouring off it, must know that something bad is happening. Once coal is rapidly oxidized (set on fire), its chemical makeup is forever changed and the toxins it once held in a benign state are released for future generations to have to deal with. People must know that anytime we “clean” coal, we are only finding new places to the put the waste from it, be it coal slurry impoundments in Appalachia, or coal ash  impoundments near power plants.

These are things I did not consider when I watched as thousands upon thousands of tons of coal was hauled from my Appalachian mountain home. These are not ideas that crossed my mind when I ran a shuttle car in the mines hauling it to the feeder 10 tons at a time. I wanted to think it was just a black rock. Today, I realize the full extent of coal’s legacy on our children.


Thirteen men sat in the best barricade they could build, enduring…hoping. They had used their single hour of oxygen from the only Self Contained Self Rescuer issued to them by the company. Their families waited outside living through one of the most difficult times of their lives, praying to see their loved ones once again.

As time wore on, we would learn the ultimate fate of those men, those husbands, those fathers, those grandfathers, brothers, uncles, nephews. One was alive, barely holding on…the others had perished in the thick poisoned air of the mine.

The miners of Sago were like so many of us. They took one of the few jobs available to them, jobs that would allow them to live in the places they had long called home, jobs that would pay enough to support their families.

If only the company had given them more than one SCSR—if only there had been a law—but we know how much power money holds over the hearts of men.

It would be the suffering and tragic loss of life of those 12 brave souls—the pain of constant loss felt by their families—that would finally see to it that every coal miner in the United States would never face the same crisis. Millions of Americans became outraged at the events that played out on their televisions, and the ensuing public outcry would accomplish a feat that has seldom been accomplished in the history of US coal mining—the power of coal industry lobbyists was outweighed by the voice of the public in the halls of government. Laws were passed and now additional SCSRs must be purchased by coal companies, underground safe havens must be built and supply miners with three day of oxygen, food, and water.

Each time my crew passed a safe haven and SCSR stash on our way to the section, I would think of those men, I would think of their final hours. I would pay my respects to them in my own way and wish that the corruption of the coalfields had not taken their lives. I hope that other miners do the same and remember the day the miners of Sago perished and the hearts of their families were forever broken.

Caterpilliar vs. Mining Jobs

Coal Age Magazine – Alpha Coal West Works with Cat to Develop a Better Dipper

The cut line for the above article from Coal Age should read…

“Alpha Coal West Works with Cat to Eliminate More Coal Mining Jobs Through Increased Mechanization”

Tell me again why everyone still believes coal companies are job creators?

At various times through my blogging, I have pointed out that coal companies are legally bound to make a profit for their shareholders. Even staunch conservatives argue “What’s the point of a business that isn’t out to make money?” So why do people’s understanding of the coal business fall short of overhead reduction in the form of job elimination?

Coal miner’s must realize that there is a difference between a “War on Coal” and a “War on Coal Miners.” The companies, who miners believe to be their closest ally, are continuously trying to gain more productivity from their workers while cutting as much overhead as possible. Perhaps it’s time coal miners and their families realized the truth behind coal’s motivations and began fighting for themselves and the future of their children.

I for one would love to see what Appalachians can do on their own without the coal industry telling everyone what they should be doing.

Alpha Natural Resources: Running Right….off of a cliff.

Wall Street Journal

Alpha Natural Resources in Talks to Obtain Bankruptcy Financing

Alpha Natural Resources. Running Right… of a cliff and taking thousands of mining families with them.

The coal industry has not changed and once again, the upper echelons of the coal companies will take their money and run while they leave everyone else to suffer.

What has the coal industry done in the past 5 years to help alleviate the economic devastation their industry has left Appalachia with?

What are their politicians saying, those who received large contributions to their campaign financing like Mitch McConnell and Hal Rogers, Morgan Griffith, and countless local politicians? Are they still busy playing the blame game rather than taking up the reigns of serious economic development (and I for one, do not consider the SOAR conference to be anything more than a publicity stunt)?

Everyone has been a Friend of Coal for over a decade now. How much of a friend will coal be in return.

Slaves to “Freedom”

“My friend Tony Oppegard recently shared  an article with me highlighting one miner’s termination of employment for “insubordination.” The act of “insubordination” came when Harrison an employee for Murray Energy, sent back a voided “safety bonus” check with “KISS MY ASS, BOB” written on the back to signify his protest of a bonus system better designed to silence claims of unsafe work practices and instead increase production. You can read more about it here.

Such muzzling gives me reason to elaborate on a long held belief of mine. We exist within two very different versions of “freedom” in this country.

In order to understand these two “freedoms,” we must first look at freedom, and what better way to establish the first form than to start with a little Appalachian history.

In “Night Comes to the Cumberlands,”Harry M. Caudill gives explanation to the way in which our ancestors came to the mountains. While history classes often teach of the tobacco and cotton that was grown and traded by the colonies, they never seem to detail the unfortunate souls who labored in the fields. We are often told they were African slaves, but the slave trade wasn’t as well established during the early years and laborers were still needed. Thus the British Crown found a way to deal with the problem of poverty the Scots and Irish, and a lack of labor in their newest colonies.

…dumped on a strange shore in the keeping of a few hundred merciless planters [plantation owners]… Many of them died on the plantations under the whips of taskmasters. Some ran away and became pirates whose Jolly Rogers terrorized the oceans. A few, perhaps, rose over the heads and shoulders of their suffering fellows to become planters themselves. Others— and it is these with whom we are concerned— ran away to the interior, to the rolling Piedmont, and thence to the dark foothills on the fringes of the Blue Ridge. These latter were joined by more who came when their bonds [indentured servitude] had expired. And here we have the people— few in number, but steadily gaining recruits, living under cliffs or in rude cabins— who were the first to earn for themselves the title of “Southern mountaineers.” Slowly, in the last quarter of the seventeenth century and throughout the eighteenth, these backwoodsmen increased in number. Steadily, newcomers pushed in from the coastal regions and the birth rate must have been, as it still is, prodigious. Thus by 1750 or 1775 there was thoroughly established in the fringes of the Southern Appalachian chain the seed stock of the “generations” [*] whose descendants have since spread throughout the entire mountain range, along every winding creek bed and up every hidden valley. The family names found in eastern Kentucky today are heard over the entire region of the Southern mountains. They bespeak a peasant and yeoman ancestry who, for the most part, came from England itself and from Scotland and Ireland…

By the time of the Harrodstown (now Harrodsburg) settlement, much of the pioneer society in this mountainous region had resided in the wilderness for three or four generations. They had already become thoroughly adapted to their environment. They had acquired much of the stoicism of the Indians and inurement to primitive outdoor living had made them almost as wild as the red man and physically nearly as tough. The white backwoodsman had learned, perhaps from the Cherokees, how to build cabins,[*] and had improved the structure by the addition of a crude chimney. His “old woman” could endure hardships and privation as well as the Indian squaw, and was far more fruitful. Having never been exposed to the delights of civilization, she was willing to follow her husband wherever wanderlust and a passion for untrammeled freedom might take him. And the mountaineer needed few implements and skills to live by kingly standards (to him) anywhere in the Appalachians, or in the rolling meadowlands beyond. He had learned to clear the narrow bottoms for the cultivation of Indian corn, squash, potatoes, beans and tobacco, and from the sale of skins and other forest products he had acquired an ax and the Pennsylvania “Dutch” rifle and lead and powder. Salt could be obtained at natural licks, and all other things essential to his well-being could be acquired in the forest.”

Aside from Caudill’s somewhat racial remarks regarding Native Americans and dim depiction of the intelligence of the Appalachian pioneer women, his telling of the way in which Appalachian mountaineers came to be is perhaps one of the most accurate.

The key point here, and what brings us back to the purpose of this article, is the idea of “freedom.”

Our early mountain ancestors were freedom seekers. They came to the mountains in search of freedom, found it, and held fast to it. They adopted a simple way of life free from the wants of materialism. They became a loose knit culture of free land-based people, very similar to the First Nations with whom they co-existed with for a short span of time–at least until more settlers invaded the mountains and began taking land for themselves thus damaging those relations.

For nearly 200 years, mountaineers lived in relative freedom until industrialists sent in land speculators and railroads, laying the way for the timber and coal industries to take the resources and enslave the once free people of the mountains as their generational workforce.

Naturally, to make someone a slave, you must make them dependent upon you for life. Unlike the African slaves brought to North America and placed into the bondage of fear and necessity, Appalachians were white and did not have to fear an oppression from the color of their skin, nor did they have any fear of being starved after having lived for generations in the mountains and knowing  the land. Like the First Nations, they could not be easily turned into slaves–they had to much spirit, to much honor, and a deep love for the freedom they had established for themselves.

Industry would find it’s way to subdue us however.

Outside investors began by destroying the forests (think killing the bison) and then acculturating our people to a life of economic want and need (think company stores vs. farms and forests). We did not go quietly. Unions were formed and we fought against the machine guns of company mercenaries and corrupt law enforcement. For decades we kept a voice, kept some of our freedom and pride, but when you are up against such intense oppression from people who have enormous fortunes, plenty of time, and are willing to pull every trick in the book, it’s only a matter of time before our spirit was broken and the unions were busted.

Today we think we have freedom. In an effort to justify our loss of true freedom, we prop up our new version of freedom against despotic regimes, telling ourselves we have more freedom than people in China or those who lived in the former Soviet Union. We tell ourselves that we should  be appreciative of what freedoms we have. Of course, this is a bullshit comparison when thinking of the true freedom our people once enjoyed. Our current “freedom” isn’t freedom at all.

Getting back to the article involving Mr. Harrison’s note to Murray Energy CEO Bob Murray, plainly put, Harrison doesn’t have freedom of speech. None of us do while working for companies whom we are dependent upon for wages to feed ourselves and our families. We do as the company says, act as the company tells us to, and keep our mouths shut to keep our jobs.

We are not allowed to be “insubordinate” even in the face of unsafe working conditions.

I’m sure many people will say, “Well, you have the freedom to quit, the freedom to find another job, the freedom to build your own company, and all the freedoms given to you by the free market”  etc etc etc.

To this I must then point out, “What happens when corporations ask for our resumes and call our references? What happens when you don’t have the money to start your own business and the banks won’t loan to you? What happens when you’re black or hispanic? What happens when big business keeps getting bigger and bigger, forcing out the small people who can’t compete against cheap goods produced halfway around the world by people who are forced into wage slavery that’s even worse than our own? ” I’m sure we would spend hours going back and forth. I would cite the amount of land that has been purchased or outright stolen unscrupulously (in terms of the Native Americans and even the land companies in Appalachia), and I’m sure I would speak to the institutionalized racism, classism, and the tremendous amount of money corrupting our political system. The opposition to my comments would come in the form of telling me that people are just not driven enough, that anyone can do anything they put their minds to and work hard for, people are only as free as they believe they are (of which I think the latter comes closest to finding common ground).
I’m sure many folks have been in the same situation I have been, working the best job they could find and not wanting to jeopardize it for fear of being unable to find another decent job to sustain their families. While we are certainly free to quit our job, to move to a different place to find a different job, or go deeply into debt to start a business, we don’t. Fear keeps us bound to the grind, to being the quiet, tempered employees we need to be to maintain what little comfort we have.

So, do we have true freedom or have we been acculturated into a system of mental and economic slavery played off as freedom? We stand and give the pledge of allegiance in school, we take off our hats and put our hands over our hearts for the star spangled banner, and we honor the many who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country, all while we allow ourselves to be silenced in the workplace.

Can we go back to the way it was, living off the forests and what we grew? Can we know what the simple life holds while we are constantly bombarded with advertising and a culture that tells us we are worthless unless we have bigger, nicer, better things?

When looking at our past, I think the answer becomes very clear.

Southern Pride

Note: This is a little off subject for the blog, but I still feel it necessary to speak to.

SCVSticker.240144456_stdWhen I was a teenager, I became caught up in ideals of the Sons of the Confederate Veterans. I went to a meeting and hoped desperately that I could find a confederate soldier within my lineage so I could join. I followed the thinking of the SCV, believing that the war wasn’t entirely based on slavery, often repeating that although Abraham Lincoln was an abolitionist, he was still a racist and that the emancipation proclamation was more so a political move than an ethical/moral one.

Always one to support the underdogs and fight for justice, I thought I was doing just that within my wishes to be a part of the SCV and thus aligning myself with the tens of thousands of poor southern farmers who became confederate soldiers and died fighting against the “rich” northerners.

Today, I’m not so ignorant. Though I was hinting at many truths to the war, I was blinded by a false sense of pride in being a “southerner.”

The truth, as I see it, is that it was a war of ideals between the wealthy who then used the poor to fight it. While the confederacy did see many soldiers volunteering to defend their way of life, those poor and unfortunate multitudes did so under a false presumption of politics. They were manipulated by a class of people who understood the values of the lower classes just enough to tap into their sense of pride and heritage. They played upon the lack of education given to those masses and the inability of those masses to think critically and question the status quo. As a result, columns upon columns of men were formed, all willing to die in battle to defend their “way of life.” In truth, however, those confederate leaders were working to protect their lucrative profit margins being achieved through slave labor.

While I do paint a rather sinister picture of the confederate leadership, the US government of the time was not much better. The primary source of recruits for the US Military were the poor and desperate who often faced starvation due to an economy dominated by the wealth. One third of the union army consisted of the hungry immigrants filing off of the ships that carried them from Europe. Similarly uneducated, and without the sense of pride and heritage that drove their southern adversaries onto the battlefields, impending starvation of their family became enough to motivate them into battle. In other cases conscious decisions were made by the US Government to draft the poorest people in the poorest communities leading to uprisings that included the New York Draft Riots.

The Civil War was about money, power, politics, and manipulation, and while it is true that the root cause for the war came from the abolitionist movement within congress, I cannot believe political support for abolition was the result of congressmen whose hearts led them to fight for social, ethical, and racial justice. I must believe that abolition was cause adopted by northern politicians to protect their economic interests against competition from areas in the nation with access to a fully exploitable workforce. Northern companies simply could not out-compete free labor even with their own wage slaves laboring away in factories and mills.  Abolition was also a means of providing a “moral high ground” that was used to dehumanize southern farmers in the eyes of an army already reluctant to fight. The proof of this theory comes in the way African Americans soldiers were treated by the US Army during the Civil War, and the way they would continue to be detested and deterred from social mobility through institutionalized racism following the war, a problem that exists even today.

Many tactics used in the Civil War by economic and political forces are still being used to manipulate the minds of the people in the United States today, especially in the south where there still exists a stronger sense of pride than other places. Education systems in the south are still underfunded and very few teach critical thinking in ways that break through the cultural norms of the region.

A divide is created between those who are “book smart” (northerners) and those having “common sense” (southerners) and it is not uncommon for southerners to create enemies out of people who have gone on to achieve a higher education. In many cases this helps them fill the voids of failure felt when they were unable to attend college in a culture that still judges achievement and success by academic standards, a culture that still portrays southerners in the media as  being “stupid” or “backwards.” A defense mechanism is then set up that creates distrust for those with a higher education who tend to question the status quo of manipulation, exploitation, and injustice.

Having “common sense” becomes a means of self-worth which then leads many to believe they are right without the need to research facts, and alternatively gives them the right to ignore and refute the scientific facts provided by others who they see as being “to smart for their own good.” When coupled with the  constant streams of misinformation from corporate media and their renditions of popular southern culture, many people become misguided and led into false political battles that continue to harm themselves and their families.

It is a system of deceit played out through political speeches, the defense of symbolic relics,  through corporate public relations campaigns, and even through channels of popular culture such as country music.

When reflecting on the Civil War, we should mourn the hundreds of thousands of lives lost upon battlefields and within the homesteads throughout our nation during this dark time in our history. We should see both flags, Union and Confederate, as banners that were used to mislead people into fighting for hollow versions of justice and freedom. We need only look underneath the surface to see the truth, and the further we look the more injustice we will find. Lest I remind people of both sides of this debate that our “great” nation committed mass genocide against the Native Americans who inhabited this land well before the Civil War, and who we continued to murder in cold blood for decades following the Civil War. Even today we continue efforts to destroy their culture and exploit their lands.

The Face of the Coal Industry

The coal industry has a face, and that face is Don Blankenship.

While many company officials hide behind well funded public relations campaigns and filter their speech through expensive law firms, Don Blankenship, in his brazen acts and public comments, broke the long held omertà of his peers. In doing so, he has shown us the truth that is the coal industry.

The People v. the Coal Baron By David Segal – The New York Times



Reflections on the Miners Memorial Weekend – Cumberland, British Columbia

cumberland miner's memorialOver the past three days my family has had the honor of joining the Miners Memorial Weekend, a three day event that is the culmination of many months work done by the volunteers and staff at the Cumberland Museum and Archives of Cumberland, British Columbia.

The Miner’s Memorial Weekend is meant to honor the history of Cumberland a small town on Vancouver Island, that lies off the western coast of Vancouver, BC. We were surprised to find that many towns upon the island were coal mining boom towns from the 1880s to the mid and late 1920s.

Though no coal has been actively mined in the Cumberland community since the 1960s, many towns people have embraced their heritage and chosen to honor the miners who suffered and died in the coal mines in the Comox Valley. Not only do they focus upon the European roots of the community, but they also pay tremendous respects to the Chinese and Japanese immigrants, men who like the various immigrants to the Appalachian coalfields, were abused and paid much less than their European counterparts.

Perhaps the largest focal point of the Miner’s Memorial Weekend is to resurrect and honor the memory of Ginger Goodwin, a labor organizer who began mining coal in Yorkshire before traversing the United States and ending up in Cumberland, BC. Ever the hero of workers rights, he fought the companies and the economic systems that would turn hard working families into the slaves of an industry.

Like many labor organizers, his work grated against the profit minded companies who eventually hatched a plot to have him killed as a deserter of the Canadian Army during conscription (the draft) for World War I. Goodwin held strong convictions against the war and swore he’d never pull the trigger on another poor worker who had been sent by the rich to die on the fields of battle.

On July 26th, 1918 a company hired police officer shot and killed Goodwin at his cabin in the woods above Comox Lake. His body was later brought to the Cumberland Cemetery where it was met by over 500 coal miners who had come to honor him. The murder resulted in the first general strike that spread across the island and reached onto the mainland.

In the town of Cumberland, the truth about coal is being preserved and I could not help but reflect upon the many historical similarities between Appalachia and Vancouver Island, and also the many contemporary differences.


The largest difference is the way in which the coal industry of Appalachia has taken our heritage and transformed it their will. No longer do the people of Appalachia hold memorials to honor the tens of thousands of coal miners who have perished in the darkness of the mines. They  instead celebrate coal, or “black gold” at large festivals. They focus little on the lives of the workers, and instead co-opt their honor by focusing on the coal they produced. No evidence of this transition has been more conspicuous than the large bronze plaque at the Hurricane Creek Miners Memorial near Hyden, Kentucky that proclaims, “Miners Memorial In Memory of Those Who Gave Their Lives for Black Gold.” The hundreds of thousands of miners throughout the world who have died mining coal did not give their lives “for Black Gold,” they did so to earn a wage to provide for their families and were instead killed by the drive for tremendous profits their families would never see.

As much as people and places may appear different, we are all very much the same. Connections exist everywhere.

The Real War on Coal: Big Oil vs. King Coal

Colstrip, MT Generating Station - Photo by Rustina Mullins

Colstrip, MT Generating Station – Photo by Rustina Mullins

Since its inception, electrification has been largely powered by coal. Until the early 2000s, coal held the most prominent place of electrical generation fuel sources at 50%. That number has since fallen to roughly 39%[1] and continues to plummet worldwide[2].

In the many impoverished coal mining regions of this nation, this news is devastating as thousands of coal miners are being laid off.  The coal industry has been quick to point fingers, aiming the fear and frustrations of their employees towards a “war on coal” that they say is being waged by liberal democrats and the EPA all being pressured by “treehugging” environmentalists. Though President Obama and the EPA have been working towards new standards that will hold coal companies and coal fired power plants to higher standards, (making it harder for them to create messes they don’t clean up), the efforts of environmentalists and their political allies only accounts for a very small percentage of the issues facing coal.

For nearly as long as coal has been around, so has oil. The oil industry is massive and powers the world economy. Everything we do, everything we consume and depend on to live requires oil. From the manufacturing of fertilizers and pesticides to increase crop production, to the massive tractors that till the soil of the Midwest and the tractor trailers that haul our food, oil feeds the masses. Goods and the raw materials necessary to produce them are shipped around the world using oil—even the coal that must make it from mine site to power plant (or export terminal). Make no mistake, big oil is bigger than big.

The oil industry is merciless. Though coal has much political power in their respective states (Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, Montana, Alabama), their power is miniscule compared to the way oil companies manipulate global politics. Right now, and as they have for decades, oil companies are funding murderous despotic regimes in third world countries and have succeeded twice in getting the US involved in Middle Eastern wars. Chevron, 9th largest oil company in the world, has global assets of nearly $250 billion. How large are the assets of the top 10 oil companies combined?

For years the oil industry has held little interest in the electrical generation market, remaining content with their control of the world economy. At least until they found a new way in.

With the drilling technology already at their fingertips, the oil industry has begun tapping into the world’s natural gas reserves, thereby developing an energy resource capable of overthrowing King Coal’s long held reign. To believe the wealthy stake holders within the coal industry are innocent bystanders in this market takeover would be childishly naïve.

Investors are investors. It is their job to predict these things, to foresee the financial future, and make as much money from it as possible. In the case of the coal industry, who has seen this coming for much longer than any of us have, they’ve found a huge opportunity to use the death of their industry to their fullest advantage. Through calling it a “War on Coal” and scaring coal miners and their families with the possibility of layoffs, coal companies have been able to manipulate communities into fighting for the same industry who has exploited them and their ancestors for over one hundred years. The coal industry’s well played public relations game has even caused many people to ignore the death and destruction that exists all round them.

Coal companies are sending the people of coal mining communities straight off of a cliff while they themselves are walking into the bank to cash out one last time.

As with any large battle of this type, it’s always the working people who suffer the most. It’s time we all wised up to these facts and realize that there are alternatives. It’s time we all finally understood that we have to make a better life for ourselves and that we can’t keep supporting the companies who are just out to make money and live their lives in luxury while the rest of us deal with the mess. We as a people can do better. It’s time we stopped chasing after material dreams and false pride and stood for what’s truly right…defending our children’s chance for healthy, happy future. It’s not as hard we sometimes make it out to be, and it can be done with very little. We can start by looking to our past and connecting it with our present—and our future.