Dirty Pictures | Courtesy of Big Coal

Anti-coal parody

"Clean Coal" parody

You’ve seen them. The ads for “clean coal.” And you’ve probably seen some of the satiric take-offs on the industry efforts to convince us that “coal is our friend.”

Our Most Plentiful Fuel! (If you pretend solar power doesn't exist)

From "Let's Learn About Coal"

And if you’ve visited Kevin Grandia’s DeSmogBlog you saw “educational” material about coal geared for the young’uns. Take this coloring book,  “Let’s Learn about Coal!” produced by “Friends of Coal” and available through the industry group, the West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA).

It starts off with the easy-to-debunk claim that coal is our “most plentiful fuel,” (only if you ignore the far larger potential from solar or wind power), but quickly moves to game-like activities that just slap a happy face over every aspect of coal.

And the sun smiled...

And the sun smiled...

For example, there’s a connect-the-dots page depicting surface mining. Giant machines “take away” the earth to get at the coal. Although solar power wasn’t included as an energy source earlier, the sun makes an appearance here, smiling down as if mesmerized by the human activity below.

The authors could have illustrated surface mining with a picture of mountaintop removal mining, but that might have sent a confusing message about coal mining.

Mud River, West Virgina. (Graphic from www.ilovemountains.org)

Mud River, West Virgina. (Graphic from www.ilovemountains.org)

Throughout, “Let’s Learn About Coal” subtly underscores the same themes the coal industry uses to convince adults that coal is their friend, too. Issues, such as:

Jobs

For adults

Clean Coal Jobs
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.adfFor children

Kids jobs

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National Security

For Adults

Coal Industry blog (left) and photo (right)

Coal Industry blog (left) and photo (right)

For children

Kids national security

The Environment

For adults

Environment, adults

For children

Environment, kids

The coloring book is just the start

Friends of Coal describes itself as “a volunteer organization … dedicated to inform and educate West Virgina citizens about the coal industry and its vital role in the state’s future.” Nowhere on the Website is there any mention of funding from the coal industry or any other links between the group and industry.

Logos

Logos

But the design of the “Friends of Coal” logo is nearly identical to that of the West Virginia Coal Association, an industry group made up of the major mining companies and equipment suppliers in that state.

The Website itself was first registered in 2002 by The West Virginia Coal Association, with the extension “.org.” When the extension “.com” was added  later, the registrant was listed as the Eastern Coal Council, another affiliated industry group.

Actually getting the coal coloring book into classrooms has been the task of yet another industry front group, the “Friends of Coal, Ladies Auxiliary.” Given the name, it’s not surprising that the organization’s logo doesn’t stray too far from its roots.

Ladies-AuxiliaryStill, the Ladies Auxiliary presents itself as a simple, independent grassroots group. The excerpt below is from their Website.

In July, 2007, a group of concerned women decided that it was time someone began to promote coal and its role in our state and national energy policies. We felt that a group without direct economic ties to coal companies could enhance the image of coal and combat some of the adverse publicity coal receives on a daily basis in the press and from many organized environmental groups. [Emphasis added]

The Auxiliary in involved in a variety of projects. They host information booths at events…

Ladies Auxiliary booth

Ladies Auxiliary booth

…and distribute temporary tattoos supplied by Friends of Coal…

Tattoo

Tattoo

and license plates…

License plate

License plate

…and stuffed dogs named Mr. Coal (and wearing bibs with pro-coal slogans) to sick children in hospitals…

Mr. Coal

Mr. Coal, "a friend for life." (From Friends of Coal Ladies Auxiliary Marketing Video)

But the centerpiece of the ladies’ group is the program to bring their pro-coal message into elementary schools.

Friends, school, Coal in the Classroom

A lesson in giving back to the community

Regina Fairchild (seen above, holding “Mr. Coal”), chairwoman of the auxiliary, explained the program’s goal in a radio interview last May.

“Our age group when we were growing up we were taught about coal and knew a lot more about it,” said Fairchild. “They teach you how to plant a garden in Iowa so we are about coal. West Virginia is coal so we thought maybe we could give back in that direction.”

In addition to the coloring book, the third grade students receive a pencils, pens and a bracelet with the “Friends of Coal” logo, lumps of real coal…

Lumps of coal

Lumps of coal

… T-shirts extolling the importance of coal to West Virginians…

Coal Tree

Coal Tree

…and guest speakers. The coal lessons last about 20-minutes a day, and are held on four consecutive Wednesdays.

One classroom speaker was Bill Raney, president of the WVCA.

WVC president in the classroom

WVC president in the classroom

In a newspaper interview earlier this year, Raney said a program like “Coal in the Schools” was needed to counter the stereotype of coal companies preying on small towns.

“What we’ve dealt with for years is ‘the coal industry comes in here, swoops in, mines the coal and never supports the community,’” he said. “When you begin to finally autopsy what goes on in local communities, then you find out there’s a whole lot of silent support there.”

The environment? Too complicated

Teacher Mary Grace Peck, whose third grade students were among the first to take part in the program, said that while there are positive and negative aspects to coal mining, the Coal in the Classroom program doesn’t tackle any negative issues such as the destruction of mountaintops.

“Not in third grade,” Peck explained. “That might be an issue for middle school or even high school….It’s very complicated.”

Friends, Regina Fairchild 1

Regina Fairchild

Keeping things upbeat is also important to Regina Fairchild.

“It is very important now especially with this [Obama] administration,” says Fairchild. “This has fit like a pocket on a shirt as far as getting the message out. We came to give a positive message. There is so much negativity out there we are about giving back and being positive about it and I don’t think you can create anything other than what we’re doing but good.”

The chairwoman of the Ladies Auxiliary goes one step further, however. Fairchild advocates taking the program statewide, and making it a mandatory part of the West Virginia school curriculum. Students need to learn about the positive aspects of coal, says Fairchild, “because that’s who we are.”

Making coal synonymous with the state of West Virginia and its people is a leitmotif in industry PR. The WVCA even offers several ringtones setting the concept to music.

Coal is WV – Mountain Mix

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The lyrics are, “Coal is West Virginia, coal is me and you. Coal is West Virginia, we’ve got a job to do. Coal is energy, we need energy. Coal is West Virginia!” (More coal ringtones are found below.)

Whether or not most West Virginians would agree that they are coal, when chairwoman Fairchild makes the claim, at least it has more substance. That’s because the organizer of the Ladies Auxiliary is married to the coal industry. Despite boasts that the Ladies Auxiliary is “a group without direct economic ties to coal companies,” Fairchild’s husband, J.D. Fairchild, is sales director for Terex, SHM (Superior Highwall Miners) whose parent company, Terex Corporation, had revenues of $10 billion last year.

Like the WVCA’s Bill Raney, JD is one of the speakers in the “Coal in the Classroom” program organized by his wife Regina.

He talks mostly about what he knows best: highwall miners, machines that weigh a million pounds and that can be operated — JD tells the children — by a single person.

Asked what he liked about the class, one third-grader responded, “Learning about the machines. Because those are bigger than little people.”

Highwall miner (click to go to video)

Highwall miner (click to go to video)

In a video produced by Regina Fairchild’s organization about the Coal in the Schools program, at least one group of students is seen admiring her husband’s giant machinery close up. The location isn’t identified on the video (nor is the machine for that matter), but it’s clearly the Terex® miner and the field trip was probably to the manufacturing plant which is located not far from the school.

Field trip

Field trip

Before leaving “Coal in the Classroom,” here’s the complete list of Coal is West Virginia ringtones from the WVCA:

Male Voice Choir………………………………..

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Lyrics: “When we go down deep through the dark today, we come up with a light for America!

New Orleans……………………………………….

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Male Voice Choir (uptempo)………………

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Mountain……………………………………………

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Lyrics: “Coal is West Virginia, coal is me and you. Coal is West Virginia, we’ve got a job to do. Coal is energy, we need energy.

Gospel…………………………………………………

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Bluegrass…………………………………………….

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Lyrics: “West Virginia coal, gonna take you on a ride. Gonna take you to the city, to the store and to the countryside. Gonna let you work your magic and your power and your pride. West Virginia coal, you’re on your way! (Chorus) When we go down deep through the dark today, we come up with a light for America! Coal is West Virginia!

Friends of Coal America

Last July the coal industry formed another front group: Friends of America. The largest change in the logo was the addition of an eagle colored like Old Glory.

Friends of America (Coal)There are multiple false syllogisms at work in these names and themes:

Coal is West Virginia.

Friends of coal are friends of West Virginia.

If you’re not a friend of coal, you’re an enemy of West Virginia.

The new organization simply replaces the word “coal” with the word “America.”

So, if you’re not a friend of coal…what does that make you?

Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Corporation, one of the largest mining companies in the nation, provides a hint in his video invitation to what appears to be FOA’s sole reason for being: the Friends of America Rally, held on Labor Day on a former WV mountaintop that was removed and flattened to get to the coal.

Blankenship spoke even more openly about his anti-environmentalist and anti-government world view in a speech delivered just two weeks after Barack Obama was elected President.

BlankenshipIn his talk, Blankenship complained that “the greeniacs are taking over the world,” and that the “government remains the biggest risk to the American way of life, freedom and the environment.”

He also accused his “anti-coal” critics of being Communists and atheists and compared them to Osama bin Laden.

“They,” Blankenship said, “are our enemies.”

These themes were central to the Friends of America Rally, which featured conservative talk-show host Sean Hannity, Hank Williams, Jr., libertarian rocker, Ted Nugent, and Christopher Monckton, a British economist who recently claimed that President Obama will sign a climate protocol in Copenhagen because he (Obama) supports the treaty’s goal: “to impose a Communist world government on the world.”

Friends of America Rally

Friends of America Rally

Although billed as a celebration, the speakers didn’t seem to find much to celebrate.

“I believe the whole world sucks,” Emcee Nugent told the crowd. “But America sucks less.”

After boasting that “I like my tyrants dead,” Nugent warned that Obama plans to disarm Americans. “This country is now dominated by a president, his administration, and gang of czars who clearly hate America.”

According to the FOA Website, rally sponsors included Verizon Wireless, Terex SHM, a host of mining companies and mine equipment manufacturers, and the state chapters of the Farm Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and the Automobile and Truck Dealers Association. While Massey Energy was just one of many mining companies on the list, CEO Don Blankenship made it clear who was running the show.

Blankenship at the Rally

Blankenship at the Rally

“I want to thank everybody for inviting me here today,” Blankenship told the crowd, and then added, “It only cost me about a million dollars or so.”

[Want more dirty pictures? Not to worry; we've got plenty more to post in a follow-up, including images of mountaintop removal and the devastating consequences flowing from coal ash -- the toxic residue that's left after burning coal.]

Note: We try to keep the focus primarily on solar power at The Phoenix Sun. This article started life as a short piece on the coal coloring-book, but the more we learned about its origins the harder it was to keep the story inside its original box

If you want to stay up-to-date with news on the coal front, you’re in luck. Ken Ward, Jr., the dean of American coal reporters, writes a blog for the Charleston (WV) Gazette called The Coal Tattoo. Read it and weep. And then organize.

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25 thoughts on “Dirty Pictures | Courtesy of Big Coal

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  11. Thank you for exposing the Coal Cult and its leader Don Blankenship. I live in WV and beneath one of his mountaintop removal operations. What used to be a pristine mountain with an abundance of trees, plants, wild life and sparkling clean water has been turned into a barren moonscape of rock and mud rubble, no plant life, no trees, poisoned water, and no wild life. They destroy everything in their path, even sometimes entombing black bears during hibernation. This is a cult, as exposed by this article. My Dad was a coal miner (underground) because there were no other jobs. Same goes for the people that work on these mtr sites today, there are no other jobs and the coal industry makes sure it stays that way so they can control and indoctrinate out children.

    • Actually I am an underground coal miner and although there are other jobs in this area that i could make just as much money at, I choose to do this because it is a lifestyle most people don’t understand or will ever expierence. In fact, although I am a coal miner, I feel the coal industry should shut down for a few weeks and when the people who are throwing coal down to the dirt are freezing in the dark (coal provides over half of americas energy) then we will see who is and isn’t a “friend of coal.” As far as solar power goes, you people should really do some research on that matter. Just the other day, YOUR beloved president Obama was in a solar energy field that took up HUNDREDS of ACRES to supply around 1000 homes the right amount of power. Now think about that, not only are you gonna be looking at barren land but also either a 100+ foot windmill or thousands of solar panels. Me I just pray for the coal miners and the ignorance that has people wanting rid of them. I guarantee you if the mines shut down. SE KY, WV, and SW VA, to name a few, will become desolate areas. Then where will you go to rent a room and enjoy the mountains. Think about what you say before you go off posting false statements: “My Dad was a coal miner (underground) because there were no other jobs. Same goes for the people that work on these mtr sites today, there are no other jobs and the coal industry makes sure it stays that way so they can control and indoctrinate out children.”

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  13. Interesting article, not a lot of truth to it but interesting. The article makes some inferences that just aren’t true.
    Amoung others,you infer that coal miners are not clean people (your first picture). Coal miners are just like most other working people, they go to work in the mornings to support their family and very few, certainly not most, get as dirty as your picture. Which was no doubt very old or simply staged. At the end of their shift they go home and take a shower, just like most working people. Trying to degrade people does not lift you or others.
    From the picture of the coal miner you show, based on his hard hat and shirt I would guess that it was takenin the 60′s or before.

    It is interesting that you, and those that have commentd on the article, seem to think that because someone is for coal that they are against all other energy. That may be the way that you think but it’s not the way that most of us here in poor backward West Virginia think. No one that I know is against wind, solar, hydro or nuclear energy, I’m personally not all that crazy about imported energy but if you are it’s okay by me.

    If you, and the other radicals, would simply be for something and not against everything, the world would be a better place.

    To Mr. Greer, the State of West Virginia did not mandate anything about this class, it is very voluntary.

    I might add that before you reprint pictures and logos that are copyrighted that you might ask permission. It’s a courtesy here in the hills.

    • None of the “inferences” you draw from the article actually exist there. I don’t believe, then, that I’ll wrestle with those straw men. You also don’t challenge or comment on any of the substantive statements contained in the article. Guess there’s nothing more to say but: thanks for writing; glad you found the article interesting.

  14. Osha,

    Your work is amazing. Thank you so much for taking the time to expose the connections between “friendly, grass-roots” organizations such as Friends of Coal and Friends of America and their actual roots in industries that stand to lose if sustainable renewable energies are established. I hope that more and more journalists take the initiative to ferret out the sources hiding behind such innocent-looking facades and help the public realize that they’re being duped by powers who are abusing our environment, health and safety in the name of their own profits. Please keep up your fabulous work! I’d like to link to your story at http://www.GoGreenNation.org, where I try to bring together informed environmental news that goes beyond the sometimes skimpy local coverage, okay?
    Best,
    Trish Riley

  15. What a load of crap! The State of West Virginia mandating Coal in the Classroom. I’m glad my kid doesn’t go to those schools! Just as the cigarette manufacturers did, hook’em when they’re young and impressionable. I think I’ll go throw-up now!

        • I agree with steve. Throw that main breaker and stop using the coal you hate so much then we will see how much you blog. Oh yeah none because you won’t have power. Hey another thing, shut down coal and you shut down over half of americas power, hmmm no more advanced defense systems for you so I hope that tree you are hugging can protect you against foreign threats.

          • That’s the logic of “Love it or leave it” used to try and silence critics of American involvement in the Vietnam War. It didn’t work then, either.

            It’s a good thing there is a better option than the two you offer. Like, working to make a transition away from coal to cleaner sources of energy without simply shutting everything down. What’s wrong with that idea?

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