This article originally provided by The Herald-Dispatch

September 17, 2006

JANET KEATING: Is Blankenship's concern really for 'sake of the kids'?

Does Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy, really thinks that "plaintiff attorneys and politicians" own West Virginia? That's what he wrote when he attempted to rebut a recent opinion piece that cited veteran Herald-Dispatch reporter Tom Miller's study of land ownership in West Virginia.

Although Miller's study is 30 years old, that doesn't mean that land ownership and political dominance by the coal industry and others in West Virginia has changed. If anything, the coal industry and other outside interests may own more land, given the acceleration of mountaintop removal strip mining, which forces many residents to sell their property unwillingly and too cheaply.

Mr. Blankenship's column detailed his supposed concern about child abuse. Spare me. A strong case can be made that much of the child abuse here is the result of poverty, exacerbated by the historical patterns of corporate and absentee land and mineral ownership, as well as taxation practices.

According to a 1999 study from the University of South Carolina, "poverty is the most frequently and persistently noted risk factor for child abuse." West Virginia could deal more effectively with child abuse if coal and other extractive industries, as well as absentee landowners, paid their fair share of taxes.

A 1983 study of 80 counties in six Appalachian states, including West Virginia, says, "Corporations alone held 70 percent of all mineral rights. Viewed from another angle, 1 percent of the owners controlled 53 percent of the land, a state of affairs that has contributed to the region's chronic poverty."

Indeed, some of West Virginia's top coal-mining counties are plagued by chronic poverty. The percentage of people living at or below poverty in Boone County is 18.4. In Logan County, it's 21 percent, and in Mingo County, 24.7. The state average is 16.3 percent, and nationally it's 12.5 percent .

I don't believe that poverty is Mr. Blankenship's greatest concern these days. He's making headlines for publicly stating he hopes to unseat about 36 lawmakers and expects to spend millions of dollars doing it.

As long as he follows the campaign finance laws, he can spend all that he wants. He has already doled out many $1,000 contributions to legislative candidates. You can access for yourself candidates' campaign reports on the West Virginia Secretary of State's Web site.

Also check out "Analysis of Coal Industry Contributions to State Political Campaigns 1996-2004" at See which legislators depend on coal contributions and read about paybacks the industry received for their "investment."

The coal industry's stranglehold over "our" politicians continues just as it did when Mr. Miller conducted his study 30 years ago. Now, Gov. Joe Manchin is seeking to change the state's tax structure. It is past time for coal and other corporate and absentee landowners to pay their fair share of taxes.

Would Mr. Blankenship support an excess acreage tax on land holdings greater than 10,000 acres, "for the sake of the kids"?

Janet Keating is co-director of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, based in Huntington, and coordinator of Citizens for Clean Elections.

Voter-Owned Elections

Citizens for Clean Elections P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773-6753 304-522-0246