The Jim Justice Coal Con

Recently, “democratic” candidate for governor Jim Justice has been pushing a ridiculous pledge on some democrats running for office.

This pledge is NOT simply a promise to support coal miners. Instead, it states

I, ________________, commit to the people of West Virginia that I will

1. Support the growth and expansion of West Virginia’s coal industry; and

2.Fully support the safety of all West Virginia coal miners.

Let’s get something straight here. Protecting miners: we must all support that. Miners make up a tiny percentage of West Virginians—just over 1% of us (about 22K miners out of 1.85 million in our state)—but no matter if we’re talking about thousands or just one hardworking guy, we want to make sure ALL workers here have a safe working environment.

Unlike resource barons like Justice or Blankenship, we don’t want to sacrifice anybody.

We’ll even put aside the fact that Justice’s businesses racked up millions in fines for safety violations endangering miners. At Justice mines, “injury rates (for injuries forcing time away from work) are twice the national average and violations rates more than four times the national rate during the years the Justice mines failed to pay penalties,” according to analysis. Clearly this guy does not value the safety of miners, so asking others to sign a pledge he doesn’t care about himself is evidently something he baldly plans to use as a political tool to decry any who want to work for miners and WV communities rather than deadbeat barons like himself. And it hardly seems ethical for Justice to demand candidates pledge to help his own business expand.

Keep it classy, Justice.

If there isn’t a law against that, there probably should be.

Here’s what we need to be concerned about as West Virginians. It’s not just miners. All of us, Republicans and Democrats alike,  must also protect mining communities, and the rest of West Virginians. Just as we don’t want to sacrifice miners on the altar of political expedience, neither should the rest of us be sacrificed.

So clearly there are some people—a lot of people—missing from his business equation, and they’re people who have as much right to be protected as any other West Virginian. To be specific, almost 99% of West Virginians, the huge majority of us, are missing from this pledge of protection. Our governor, and our representatives, need to protect the health and safety of everyone.

This pledge is essentially a tool Justice wants to use to protect the profits of coal barons like himself, and ensure that he has a weapon to use against candidates who want to protect ALL West Virginians. He doesn’t want to lose any income. In fact we know that “executive salaries and bonuses at the top 10 publicly traded coal companies increased an average of 8 percent between 2010 and 2014, even as the companies’ combined share price fell 58 percent.”

So coal as an industry is declining, but coal CEO pay is going up!

See that for what it is: the robber barons are trying to pocket as much as they can of our wealth or resources, NOW. Jim Justice is using this so-called pledge. The costs of extraction are socialized because Resource Barons just don’t want to be responsible for the costs associated with their industries (just look at Justice’s history of unpaid taxes fines and bills). They want US to pay, no matter the cost.

Just as we don’t want to sacrifice miners on the altar of political expedience, neither should the rest of us be sacrificed.

If coal barons wanted to help miners, they have the money. We know what needs done: cannabis is a great idea. It’s a sustainable industry that would diversify our economy, particularly in distressed rural areas, and MAKE us money. Lots of it.

But that money would go to everyone, not just the wealthy coal barons.

We need to diversify to keep our state functional—and as coal jobs decline due to automation and market forces, we need bring GOOD jobs to coal communities and provide training to coal miners, something that doesn’t cost much, in the scheme of things. It would take approximately  one year of coal CEO pay.  But right now Coal Barons are benefiting from the status quo, where they are socializing their long terms costs on our state, and especially on mining families.

Coal Barons will straight up steal miner pensions, and then give themselves bonuses for doing it.

1871_0923_vultures_200The people who want us to believe coal and coal alone helps WV are the vultures making money at our expense, otherwise we’d be looking at the cost-benefit of coal to our entire state. We are not. It doesn’t benefit us; it benefits Resource Barons.

Anyone suggesting coal helps WV the way we’re currently doing it—with profits privatized while costs are socialized on regular people—is a liar, or has been deluded by a liar hoping to pocket your health and your opportunities in the form of cash.

So, here’s the thing to remember about political pledges: They aren’t pieces of legislation that must be voted upon  as-is, without making revisions. It’s not like a hard choice to vote for or against a bill that contains both good and bad parts.

And this particular pledge is not a promise; it’s a tragic threat.


There’s ZERO reason to sign a pledge promising to keep any of these costs on regular West Virginians. We’re tired of carrying the robber barons; they should pay their own way.

Instead, sign an anti-corruption pledge. Or make your own promises that contain only the things you believe in. You needn’t commit to courses of action that don’t actually help miners and mining communities in the long term.

And for Democratic candidates in particular, it goes against our resolution to end MTR, one of the most tear-jerking moments at our state convention:

And it goes against our platform, which specifically recognizes the danger of climate change.

Anyone, of either party, who signs Justice’s Coal Con should have their judgment and values called into question. If we want to save this state, we have to be honest about the challenges we face.

Our challenge is NOT to make as much money for coal barons as we can while it’s still legal. The challenge for West Virginia is to find a way to uplift miners and mining communities, that have borne so much of the costs for the rest of us. We can’t keep forcing their kids to drink dirty water, breathe dirty air. We can’t keep killing their parents young.

We have to care about their lives. They’re our neighbors. They’re people. And we’re killing them.

The challenge for West Virginia is to find a way to uplift miners and mining communities, that have borne so much of the costs for the rest of us.

You cannot sign that pledge if you recognize the reality of living out here where your house and farm could be destroyed by resource extraction at any moment, despite the health impacts and the costs socialized on you. People are dying because of coal. And they don’t have to.

McDowell is not in my district, but I care about people there. I care about people in Mercer, and in surrounding areas, where cancer rates are soaring and life expectancy is among the worst in the nation. We can’t pretend expanding coal is good for them—or for us. It’s wrong to do that. It’s unethical.

Democrats who have signed the Jim Justice Coal Con Pledge:

  1. Lisa Zukoff
  2. Rockwell Seay
  3. Mike Goode
  4. Adam Young

I would suggest contacting them and firmly but politely demand they tear it up and support something that will diversify coal communities—that is something that will help—and benefit West Virginians over all.

It’s not going to be support for coal barons like Justice who themselves don’t seem to care for miners, and simply want to exact promises from candidates that they won’t hurt his business.

Talk about crooked!

If you know of other democratic candidates who have signed this pledge, PLEASE CONTACT ME with a link to their statement of support, or to their pledge. I will add them to this list. If you are a candidate who has re-thought, please contact me with a link to your public disavowal, and I will remove your name.

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