How Big Coal & Big Oil Control Elections

by Rona Fried

We didn’t hear "war on typewriters" when the industry disappeared as the Internet emerged, and we aren’t hearing "war on newspapers" even though thousands of journalists have been laid off.

But coal is a different story. Even though the industry supplies just 0.6% of Kentucky’s jobs, both the Democrat and Republican Senate candidates are falling over themselves on who can defend it the most.

Coal isn’t under attack because of impending EPA regulations as both Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes and Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell would have us believe. Thousands of workers have been laid off in recent years because of automated production (blowing the tops off mountains requires few workers) and because production as a whole is down – cheaper, abundant natural gas
is taking its place.

Only 11,885 people work for coal companies in Kentucky, down from 75,000 in the 1940s. While the industry fights back against regulations that would protect workers’ health, locals love it when they donate money for schools and other public services. And some rural areas of the state do still rely on coal for employment, reports InsideClimate News.

Communities near mountaintop removal sites have the highest levels of lung cancer, birth defects and Parkinson’s disease in the US, and a new study confirms coal-dust particulates in the air is the cause for lung cancer in particular.

"With this study we now have solid evidence that dust collected from residential areas near mountaintop-removal sites causes cancerous changes to human lung cells, " Dr. Michael Hendryx of the University of Indiana told CNHI News Service. The peer-reviewed study was conducted by a team of researchers at West Virginia University’s Mary Babb Cancer Center.

Mountaintop Removal Mining requires many fewer workers:

Mountaintop Removal Mining

Instead of telling the truth about all this, and pointing to clean, renewable energy as a future job engine, the candidates and out-of-state donors stoke the coal card.

How about saying, We can be like Massachusetts which will soon have 100,000 clean energy jobs?

The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition (tied to Karl Rove), for example, spent $750,000 on a 12-week digital ad campaign "to educate Kentuckians on the disastrous policies of the Obama Administration when it comes to the Commonwealth’s coal-based economy, reports InsideClimate News.

As usual, we have to look to where the money comes from. Most of McConnell’s contributions come from the Koch Bros, the fossil fuel industry and investors in coal plants.

Read our article, While Feds Fund Coal Miner Re-Training, Conservatives Lie in Ads.

Chevron Buys An Election

Meanwhile in Richmond, California, Chevron is hard at work on the local level, making sure the mayor and council members don’t regulate its massive refinery there.

It started in 2012, when an explosion at the refinery sent 15,000 people to the hospital as chemicals spewed into the air. The city sued and has been putting the clamps on the plant. 

In response, Chevron is spending about $3 million in this tiny election to get the "right" mayor and city council members elected. It’s spent over $1 million on the mayor’s race alone, in contrast to the opponent’s $22,000. Most disgusting is Chevron’s "Richmond Standard" website – a "community news service" that produces propaganda that puts Chevron and its candidates in a positive light, while demonizing the others. 

Thanks to the Supreme Court Citizens United decision, corporations can spend unlimited amounts of money in federal and local elections.

But the fossil fuel industry has been rigging the system for a long time. Just since 2008, the oil industry spent over $1.1 billion – $961 million to lobby Congress and $146 million on campaign contributions – enough for each member of Congress to get $2 million, according to Fuels America.

Learn how a student exposed Chevron:

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