This morning’s paper had as its front page headline, "EPA Rules Prove Costly for Valley." Once again, an Intelligencer article tells us how recent EPA restrictions on coal-fired plants will cost the consumer more and more money:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's push for more restrictions on coal-fired power plants and the resulting shift to using more natural gas could cost local residents $750 to $850 more per year for energy use in 2020 compared to what they paid in 2012, a new study indicates.
A new study? Later in the article we find out that this study was funded by Peabody Energy. You might ask "who is Peabody Energy?" Peabody is the largest private-sector coal mining company in the world. According to its 2013 annual report, it produces fuel for about 10% of America’s electricity and around 2% of the world’s electricity. Should we be surprised that a study funded by the world’s largest coal company tells us that EPA rules and greater reliance on natural gas will cost the consumer? Is this study biased? Of course it is - this isn’t news, it’s coal company propaganda.
I checked to see if any other newspaper in the United States thought that this self-serving study could be considered "news" let alone something that deserved the largest headline on its front page. My Google results gave me the Wheeling Intelligencer and (appropriately) the PR Newswire. Yes, that’s what we got - public relations posing as real news. (And I doubt that we’ve seen the last of this study, it’s sure to be referenced by Myer and the editors in the upcoming months.)
In the last couple of years after reading similar pro-coal propaganda in the Wheeling "newspapers," I’ve considered (at least partly in jest) the possibility that the Nutting family doesn’t actually own and run these newspapers, they’re just fronts for the real owners from the coal industry who use it for propaganda purposes and for recruiting troops for the "war on coal." After "news" articles like this one, perhaps I need to take that thought a bit more seriously.
Update - November 22
Some additional information on Peabody Energy I found while researching yesterday’s blog post.
WWF Europe has filed a complaint for false advertising against Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal mining company, after the company began a campaign to promote the use of coal in developing countries, claiming that so-called "clean coal" technology could eradicate poverty.
WWF’s complaint alleges that Peabody's ad is in violation of the Jury d’Ethique Publicitaire code which require that require that "any publicity must be decent, honest and verifiable." "Peabody is marketing its dangerous technologies onto those poorest countries with the least development options," says Tony Long, the director of WWF European Policy Office.
From the Desmogblog last week:
Speculation is rife that the new GOP-led Senate will join with its similarly fossil fuel-beholden House colleagues to usher in a new era of coal. Peabody, the world’s largest privately held coal company, isn’t waiting around to find out.
The company has teamed with public relations firm Burson-Marsteller—the notorious PR giant that helped Big Tobacco attack and distort scientific evidence of the dangers of smoking tobacco—to launch Advanced Energy for Life, a desperate attempt to shift the discussion around coal away from its deleterious effects on health and massive contributions to climate change and instead posit the fossil fuel as a solution to global poverty.
Finally, from Ecowatch yesterday – the headline explains the extent to which Peabody will go for good publicity: "Big Coal Buys Facebook ‘Likes’ in Lame PR Stunt."
Update - November 23
Well, that didn't take long. From today's News-Register editorial:
As we reported Friday, a new analysis of Environmental Protection Agency plans estimates that by 2020, Americans on average will be paying 60 percent more than they did in 2012 for electricity and gas. Get out your utility bills and do the math.
Of course, there is no mention of who paid for the study. For Peabody and the paper, it's a win-win situation: Peabody gets its bogus message out there and the News-Register looks like it is actually quoting from a reliable study. The real loser is the reader who thinks that they are being provided with objective information.
Do the local "newspapers" even care?
Let’s go back to April 23:
The federal government on Wednesday said it would cut the amount of coal dust allowed in mines in an effort to prevent black lung disease, which has contributed to an estimated 76,000 miners' deaths since 1968.
"Today, we advance a very basic principle: you shouldn't have to sacrifice your life for your livelihood," Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said.
He was among several administration leaders who announced the much-debated rule from the department's Mine Safety and Health Administration that was more than three years in the making. Mines have two years to comply with requirements that lower the overall limit for dust from 2 to 1.5 milligrams per cubic meter of air. For certain mine entries and miners with black lung disease, the standard will drop from 1.0 to 0.5.
Murray Coal was quick to respond (I think the following is what’s called "projection"):
The Obama administration has no interest in protecting miners and, instead, is only seeking to further their own agenda, specifically, their ‘War on Coal,’ which has been destroying the jobs and livelihoods of thousands of coal miners and their families," according to Gary Broadbent, the company’s (Murray Coal) assistant general counsel.
And what do you think Murray Coal did? Of course, they sued. And what do you think the Wheeling Intelligencer did? The paper ignored the reasoning behind the new rule but it did devote a whole article to explaining Murray’s position.
Did the Mine Safety and Health Administration have a reason to be concerned? From Monday’s Charleston Daily Mail:
Coal miners in West Virginia and other parts of Appalachia are suffering from an advanced form of black lung at some of the highest rates in decades, according to new information released by federal health officials.
"Each of these cases is a tragedy and represents a failure among all those responsible for preventing this severe disease," states a letter about the research to a scientific journal.
The prevalence of "progressive massive fibrosis," a debilitating and lethal form of black lung, is at its highest rate since the early 1970s for miners in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, according to new research. Experts with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a department under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, summarized their study lt in a letter published Monday in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
"Excessive inhalation of coal mine dust is the sole cause of (progressive massive fibrosis) in working coal miners, so this increase can only be the result of overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition," the study states.
. . . The percentage of veteran miners with progressive massive fibrosis in 2012 was nearly 10 times greater than the percentage in the mid-1990s, according to the new research. (emphasis mine)
No word from The Intelligencer on Murray Coal’s reaction.
A final note on the sourcing for this post. Both the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Charleston Daily Mail are conservative newspapers. That, however, did not keep them from publishing this important story about the increase in black lung disease. (It is, after all, news.) Contrast them with our local papers which continually tell us how "fair and balanced" they are while ignoring anything that doesn’t fit into their "Obama’s war on coal" narrative. The local papers also tell us over and over how they care about miners and miner’s jobs. Yeah? Where is their outrage over this?
A correction and an update
Correction – In the post I wrote about the Mine Safety Health Administration’s ruling on April 23: " And what do you think the Wheeling Intelligencer did? The paper ignored the reasoning behind the new rule but it did devote a whole article to explaining Murray’s position." In my original research, I missed that one of the papers carried the AP story about the ruling. I am unable to determine if it was the Intelligencer or the News-Register.
Update – This morning’s Intelligencer carried an editorial, "End Resurgence of ‘Black Lung.’" I find it interesting that neither paper has done a story on the subject since Monday when many Appalachian newspapers ran their first story on the subject but now it’s time to editorialize. Maybe that’s because editorials allow the writer more freedom to pick and choose what information gets used and what gets left out particularly for an audience that may not be familiar with the story. The editorial suggests that:
Federal investigators need to pinpoint what has happened - what has changed - to give black lung another shot at killing and disabling coal miners. Then, action needs to be taken to reverse the trend.
They don’t know? Why not cite the NIOSH conclusion that almost every other story or editorial used?
"Excessive inhalation of coal mine dust is the sole cause of PMF in working coal miners, so this increase can only be the result of overexposures and/or increased toxicity stemming from changes in dust composition."
Yes, it's the "sole cause."