By Chris White
December 1, 2017 - An ex-coal tycoon who is running for Senate in West Virginia has a long history of suggesting that only coal production can help save the world from what he calls global cooling.
Don Blankenship, who formerly ran West Virginia-based Massey Energy, is running in the Republican primary to unseat his arch nemesis, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin. Blankenship’s unorthodox beliefs about global warming could rile up the state’s senatorial campaign.
Blankenship, a self-described “global warming denier,” called climate change a “hoax” on his website in 2014, and has consistently floated the idea that coal could help prevent a coming ice age. He’s also argued that people who believe they know what the temperature will be in 100 years should be placed in a “straight-jacket.”
“It’s almost humorous to think that a country that can’t predict its budget deficit next year can predict the temperature of the Earth, I mean, it’s — the problem with the world’s climate is it’s impacted by lots of things; we all know that,” Blankenship told The New York Times in 2010, a year that marks the beginning of the end of his coal empire.
Blankenship served a one-year prison sentence earlier this year for violating mining regulations after a 2010 mine explosion that killed 29 people. He said during the hearing in 2016 that he was “not guilty of a crime,” and told the families of the coal miners they were “great guys, great coal miners.”
His transgressions might be too big a pill for people in deep coal country to swallow, despite Blankenship’s support for President Donald Trump, who won West Virginia during the 2016 presidential election. Miners do not think highly of the former coal baron.
“They will render the same judgement on the criminal Don Blankenship that a West Virginia jury did: guilty as charged, and unworthy of holding any office,” Phil Smith, a spokesman for the United Mine Workers of America, said in a statement shortly after Blankenship announced his candidacy.
If Blankenship manages to successfully traverse a Republican field that includes critics of former President Barack Obama-ear climate regulation, then he could potentially meet face-to face with Manchin in the general election.
Manchin, for his part, was the governor of the state at the time of the disaster and routinely denounced the former Massey coal tycoon’s handing of the incident. Blankenship, in turn, claimed Manchin, a Democrat, was a central figure in a crusade against him – political reporters in the West Virginia believe the candidacy is primarily about hurting Manchin’s chances.
“These candidates are all sort of in the same place: less regulation, anything to help the coal industry is good for them,” Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report, told reporters Wednesday. Blankenship’s Republican opponents — Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Rep. Evan Jenkins – have railed in the past against the Clean Power Plan, among other climate regulations.
“You can’t even get there until you deal with the who of Don Blankenship,” Duffy said, noting the unconventional nature of the convicted energy CEO’s campaign. “It’s all about the issues that landed him in jail.”
She added: “I’m not really sure what kind of campaign he’s going to be running.”