Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Robert F Kennedy Jr – The Last Mountain

“It's not democracy anymore.”
- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

On the surface, The Last Mountain is a documentary about the dirty business of coal, the highly destructive and toxic practice of mountaintop removal mining, and one community's fight to preserve their homes, their livelihoods, their health, and the last great mountain in the region. However, the story of Coal River Mountain in West Virginia is allegorical of much that is wrong with America, which is why during our roundtable conversation with the film's champion, renowned environmental lawyer and activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., he barely mentions the four-letter word that is coal. Instead, Kennedy focuses on the underlying history and climate that has allowed corporations to rape and pillage our environment, and poison and kill our citizenry with impunity.

In The Last Mountain, Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy (he retired at the end of December 2010), is typecast in the role of modern day robber baron. As the largest coal producer in Central Appalachia, his company is only able to function on the scale it does by subjugating democracy. Mountaintop removal mining is cheaper and less labor intensive than traditional underground coal extraction methods, but it causes such an affront to the landscape, water and air, that it can only be done when the authorities charged with protecting the public interest are willing and able to look the other way.

Between 2000 and 2006 Massey chalked up a staggering 60,000 EPA infractions, but has suffered little in consequences beyond much belated and pitifully low fines that serve the government's need to be seen to be doing something while maintaining the status quo. Of course, Massey is not the only corporation and coal is far from the only industry that is using and abusing our severely compromised shell of a democracy. In light of the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling allowing corporate campaign donations (and a subsequent one that makes direct-to-candidate payments permissible), our government couldn't be for more up for sale if it were posted on eBay.

Though there will inevitably be dark days ahead for our democracy, it's not all doom and gloom thanks to a groundswell of grassroots activism as witnessed in Coal River Valley and documented in The Last Mountain. As for the environment, Kennedy points out towards the end of this interview that there's an (LED) light at the end of the tunnel, and ironically it's capitalism in its cleanest and purest form that may end up saving the day.

Read our interview with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. on

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