Coal company kicks 10,000 workers off health care

© MICHAEL GOTTSCHALK/AFP/Getty Images

Coal miners have a surprising ally in environmentalist and climate activist, Bill McKibben. Writing at Bloomberg, McKibben highlights the infuriating story of corporate socialism at Missouri's Peabody Energy Corp., now known as Patriot Coal Corp., or as McKibben calls it "America's Dirtiest Coal Company":

In a corporate sleight-of-hand, the promises won with a lifetime of hard work and hard bargaining disappeared first into a holding company. Now, if the bankruptcy judge agrees, they will disappear into thin air.

Or, to put it more explicitly, here’s a handwritten note from Shirley Wells of Sullivan, Kentucky: “Over the years thousands were killed in explosions, fires, roof falls, and many other accidents. ... Many others suffer from the slower death called black lung disease ... confined to their homes, dependent on oxygen.”

If Patriot has its way, they won’t have the medical cards that pay for their treatment. And as one miner after another points out in the letters, they bargained hard for those cards, preferring guaranteed medical care over higher wages precisely because of the toll the work took on their bodies.

If you've ever got the sense that some environmentalists consider the fossil fuel industry as being evil, it is stories like this that are to blame. So you might be surprised to see the 350.org founder and climate activist defending coal miners, but just like advocating for action to address climate change, defending these workers is the right and moral thing to do.

There's a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

An appropriate remix of this quote could be, "I like fossil fuel workers, I do not like the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry is so unlike fossil fuel workers."

By this, I mean to say that by and large, the laborers that work in the fossil fuel industry are probably good, hard-working people. Many of these people are supporting families and simply doing the work available in their region. And we mourn for their families when they are killed on burning oil rigs or in exploding coal mines or suffer economic injustice.

Environmental debates are often framed with an Us Versus Them dynamic. If we are to achieve our goal of protecting the environment for future generations, we should strive not to let the debate be seen as a fight between environmentalists versus fossil fuel workers, but rather a fight between moral or immoral choices. As much as environmentalists may dislike the fossil fuel industry and want to see it put out of business, McKibben is right to highlight the immoral actions of Patriot coal and the gross injustice of treating workers in this way.


Read the rest of the story for more infuriating detail and how McKibben proposes future climate legislation should take care of fossil fuel workers.

PHOTO: Kamp-Lintfort, GERMANY: Picture taken 04 January 2007 shows a coal miner smoking a cigarette after his working shift at a coal mine of 'Deutsche Steinkohle' in Kamp-Lintfort, western Germany, where some 4900 workers extract an average of 12,900 tonnes of black coal a day. Germany is to shut down its coal mines, which helped fuel the country's post-war economic miracle, by 2018, the ruling coalition of left and right parties agreed overnight on 30 January 2007. There are currently eight coal mines operating in Germany, employing around 33,000 people.

Tags: Bill McKibben | Coal

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