Big Coal Claims Inbreeding is Behind W. Virginia Birth Defects, Not Mining


Photo: Silvia Alba via Flickr/CC BY

You may recall seeing the report a few months back in which scientists linked a spate of birth defects in West Virginia to the toxins released from nearby mountaintop removal mining operations. It may have seemed like a perfectly sound, scientific conclusion, but the coal industry insists that there's another explanation: Inbreeding! Yes, it's a truly tasteless legal maneuver aimed at exploiting a populace with an unfortunate reputation for being 'hillbillies': Big Coal is trying to dodge accountability by dragging out age-old stereotypes. Mother Jones' Gavin Aronsen reports:

Last month, when coal execs read the report linking birth defects to mountaintop removal mining, they weren't exactly thrilled. One rebuttal, penned by four attorneys with the firm Crowell & Moring, which represents the National Mining Association, accused the study's authors of using cherry-picked and misleading data. But that apparently wasn't convincing enough, so they went a step further and employed a discredited stereotype about inbreeding in West Virginia.

"The study failed to account for consanquinity [sic], one of the most prominent sources of birth defects," the attorneys' statement said. It then went on to advertise the firm's services to coal companies looking to "counter unfounded claims of injury or disease" from potential lawsuits sparked by the study.

What the hell is consanquinity? The great coal issues blogger Ken Ward Jr. explains:
I looked up consanguinity (I was pretty sure that was the word they meant to use, not consanquinity) and found that it meant:

... consanguinity is the quality of being descended from the same ancestor as another person. Consanguinity is an important legal concept in that the laws of many jurisdictions consider consanguinity as a factor in deciding whether two individuals may be married or whether a given person inherits property when a deceased person has not left a will.

So, I asked Michael Hendryx about this ... here's what he said: "Consanguinity refers to levels of shared ancestry. It is a reference to in-breeding, not necessarily incest, but still insulting."

Aaaaaand end scene. The methods by which the fossil fuel industry employs in order to excuse its harmful, destructive practices is routinely repugnant. But caricaturing an entire group of people who've been plagued with birth defects -- and whose only crime is being unfortunate enough to have rural homes near lucrative mining operations -- is over the top, even for Big Coal.

More on Mountaintop Removal Mining
Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Significantly Increases Birth Defects
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