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Amid #climate drought during #debates, #coal worker given stage–w/o disclosure

October 10th, 2016 · 4 Comments

Ken Bone is an internet sensation.  Red sweater and all.  Lost amid the hoopla, for virtually everyone, is that he actually asked a substantive question about an issue arena that literally touches everyone of our lives every single day of our lives: energy policy.  Even less realized, essentially hidden by the debate moderators — partially under the cover of ‘undecided voter’ — is that Ken Bone has a strong financial interest in the question arena that merited upfront disclosure:

In his everyday life, Mr. Bone regularly works 12-hour shifts sitting in the control room of a coal-fired power plant.

We are through two Presidential Debates and the Vice Presidential debate. The second occurred as many (100,000s to (?) millions of) people were without electricity along the East Coast from Florida into Virginia due to climate change-enhanced Hurricane Matthew. And, through those three debates, we have had zero (yes, 0) questions on climate change with the words climate change only obliquely mentioned in a few quick words by Senator/Secretary Clinton and Senator Kaine.

Ken Bone’s question last night is the only one in the debates, to date, that has had a meaningful focus in the energy domain with its clear overlapping implication into climate issues. The phrasing of the question immediately raised questions as to whether it was somehow fossil-fuel industry related. As I put it shortly after the debate, “With all due respect to Mr. Bone, this certainly seems like a question that might have come from a fossil-fuel lobbying group.”

Here is, again, Anderson Cooper’s (non-disclosure) introduction and Ken Bone’s question:


We have one more question from Ken Bone about energy policy. Ken?


What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant workers?

Now knowing Ken Bone’s employment, the question does make clearer sense from his mindset. As he explained it,

while energy from coal is “near and dear to our hearts,” that he and his co-workers “recognize the need to be environmentally responsible.” … With his question he had been hoping to “spark a debate about subsidies for environmental controls for older coal–fired power plants.”

To a certain extent, he did achieve some meaningful comments on energy issues — although Donald Trump’s rambling response was “filled with inaccuracies, misrepresentations, and multiple factual errors” (emphasizing the fantasy of ‘clean coal’ and promoting natural gas (which is killing coal) while saying he will protect coal) while Hillary Clinton’s was “primarily a fact-based discussion” with “some specific factual errors”.

Now consider Bone’s question above and his coal employment. Does it change your thinking about his question? Being aware of his employment and having this made explicit, would this have been a better question to hear last night?

How do we meet energy needs while reducing environmental impacts and providing appropriate protections for and assistance to workers in disrupted industries?

Some thoughts here:

  1. This is absolutely a reasonable question and issue for serious discussion in the Presidential debates (even if the specific target of discussion of subsidies for pollution controls for aging polluting coal plants is rather narrow). Arenas of discussion could include how can/should we:
    1. Meet our energy needs sustainably?
    2. Support cleaning up traditional pollutants, with large investments, even if that will not assist in reducing climate emissions?  E.g., what is the investment tradeoff here: is this a mistaken putting good money after bad or a worthwhile investment?
    3. Deal with transitioning existing polluting energy systems into less (to non-) polluting ones?
    4. Provide for workers and communities in industries disrupted as we move toward a more sustainable system, whether coal or otherwise?
      1. Note that in the coal world — just as in many other areas of the economy — much job loss/disruption occurs due to technology (automation) and processes reducing workforce requirement.
      2. The “EPA” and pollution controls is often used, especially by the coal industry, as a bug-a-boo excuse for loss of commercial competitiveness — even when the environmental damages and costs had nothing to do with the economic decision making.
  2. Reality is it is NOT economy vs environment
    1. The phrasing of the question points to what is increasingly shown to be a false dichotomy: energy or environment, economy or environment …
      1. That false dichotomy, while well ingrained in common thinking, is promoted strongly by those who seek to maintain and grow a polluting energy system.
    2. Reality is that this is not an ‘either/or’ but a ‘both’ …
      1. Damaging the environment is already significantly costing us (including the U.S.) economically; and,
      2. Fundamentally, if we continue to damage the environment, the economic impacts will move from costly to devastating.
  3. The non-disclosure matters — significantly — because it
    1. Skewed the answer — with context either or both candidate might have given a different response.
    2. Impacts the listener (from media analysts to voters) who heard Bone described as ‘undecided voter’ rather than an interested party.
      1. The coal industry is about as ‘anti-Hillary Clinton’ as any specific part of the economy.  Could question be viewed in context of ‘softball’ for Trump (to strike out on)?
      2. That Ken Bone, someone in that industry, is actually undecided (even if, prior to debate, ‘leaning Trump’) is substantive — something that might make people pay even more attention, in fact. (Along the lines of: If a coal-industry work is questioning whether he is voting for Trump and is considering voting for Hillary Clinton, should I…?)
  4. Outrage is merited
    1. We are nearing the end of the debate cycle — and there has not been a climate question and is unlikely to be one …
    2. The sole energy/climate question to date came from a financially-interested party — with zero disclosure about that given to us.
    3. Media silence in the debates seems likely to continue. (After all, what is something that represents a potential existential risk to the public against yet another real @RealDonaldTrump outrage against basic human decency?)

Disappointed and frustrated are incredibly polite terms …

UPDATE:  From Gizmodo, Sophie Kleeman writes

Ken Bone isn’t a hero. Ken Bone took the nation’s only shot at asking a substantive question about the candidates’ approach to science and energy and jauntily smothered it to death. Ken Bone so beautifully screwed up the execution of what could have been a hard-hitting, line-in-the-sand question that he may as well have been planted in the audience by the fossil fuel industry. Ken Bone is a national symbol, sure—of our utter inability to address climate change or energy policy in any other way that isn’t just, “Oh, boy! The environment! Will you look at that?”

Note, that entire “Ken Bone is Bad” merits reading.

UPDATE 2:  Interesting Washington Post article with interview with Bone. 

“We’re one of the most environmentally-friendly coal power  plants in the world. We’re very recently built,” he said. But he’s concerned about the environmental and economic impact of some of the older plants, which can’t afford to equip themselves with similar technologies. For the record, Bone felt that Trump did a good job answering the part of his question about jobs, and Clinton did a good job talking about the environmental issues. He wished both candidates had addressed both parts of his question, though.

as for whether Bone is still undecided, he said he’s going to wait until all three debates are finished to make a final decision. He entered into the second debate leaning Trump, but now isn’t so sure. And he gave an interesting description as to why.

“Mr. Trump represents my personal interests very well,” he said.

“I like his economic policy better than Senator Clinton’s.” Bone believes Trump “Would probably do more to protect my job in the fossil power industry” too, which is important to him.

“But Secretary Clinton is a better representative for all of America,” he said. “It puts me in a difficult position.”

“I don’t want to see anyone’s rights stripped away. We fought very hard to get equal rights for groups that have never had them before. I’m so glad that they have them now. I don’t want them to lose those rights. So this election cycle, personally to me, is about my interest vs. the common good. It’s a tough one. I really haven’t made a final decision yet.”

UPDATE 3:  Steve Horn has a discussion of the coal-fired power plant where Ken Bone works at DeSmogBlog.

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Tags: 2016 Presidential Election

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Heather // Oct 10, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    ?For better or for worse Kenneth Bone is an ambassador to undecided voters right now, and today he’s all over the news sharing about how he believes in Trump. Talking about how coal plant employees opinions can be colored by the information pushed out to them by unions/plant ownership is an important part of the conversation. It can also be a gateway to talking to him about positive ways forward in a green energy economy that don’t threaten his personal livelihood.

    It doesn’t have to be a ‘Greens versus KBone’ battle. Mainly because we’d lose. That sweater alone, man.

    At the same time, finding out the company who owns the plant that employs Mr Bone, and looking at its connections/donations to electeds is valuable information, too.

    This is an important story. I hope we keep telling it.

  • 2 John Mashey // Oct 10, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    1) It would have been better had he simply said
    “What steps will your energy policy take to meet our energy needs while at the same time remaining environmentally friendly and minimizing job loss for fossil power plant worker LIKE ME?”

    2) I grew up in W PA and worked summers at US Bureau of Mines, so I have sympathy for fossil energy workers, and I thought the question was relevant and important, but sure would have been nice had the relevant disclosure been explicit, but unclear whose responsibility.

    (I’d assumed fossil connection from his wording, but not always obvious).

    2) The real problem is that the interests of fossil energy rank-and-file workers/communities and (executives, politicians, fossil-funded think tanks, etc) are not identical.

    Workers have legitimate concerns about their jobs, and people need to articulate plans (as BO and HRC have done) rather than invoking magic like “coal will come back.”

  • 3 Gaius Publius // Oct 11, 2016 at 3:24 pm

    I’ve said this elsewhere, but it bears repeating here. The Ken Bone question has a tell in it, whether he realizes what he’s doing or not.

    Bone is asking people to choose between energy continuity and, face it, the life of the species (or at least, its quality of life) on the planet. ?

    That’s the Petroleum Institute’s explicit blackmail in a nutshell. “Like that TV lifestyle you’ve been living? Better keep our oil in the mix or those hippies will take you big screens and handhelds away from you.” That’s almost a quote from their ad.

    If it’s verboten to countenance or mention any energy disruption, much less rationing, during a fast transition to completely renewable-based power, we’ll never get there.

    And that almost guarantees will happen what it aims to prevent — a severe, involuntary and uncontrolled disruption of power for billions as we ride the chaotic climate wave to the bottom.

    Speaking frankly, allowing “with no power disruption” to be the trump card means we’re going to lose, all of us. And if we haven’t cottoned to that yet (I suspect many of us have, in private), it’s sure as hell true that Big Oil has figured it out. It’s been in their ads for well over two years now.

    (BTW, I’m not a fatalist yet. I do think there’s a chance to pull this out with major serious effort. But the window is closing fast.)

    To close where this started, when I heard his question, I knew immediately it was shill-like, even if he wrote it himself. “If you guarantee me perfect lifestyle continuity, then yes, you can have your environmental, climate-safe programs. Don’t go making me too uncomfortable now…”

    Right. API says the same thing, ’cause they know they can’t lose saying it.


  • 4 The Guy Who Went Viral from Presidential Debate Works for Coal Company Opposed to Climate Regulations - Planet Experts // Oct 25, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    […] of St. Louis in Lively Grove, Illinois. Adam Siegel, who blogs at the site Get Smart Energy Now, first pointed to the lack of disclosure the day after the […]