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This opinion piece was written for Earthjustice and is reprinted here with permission.

Walk through an airport in Washington, D.C., and you may come across the ad above created by a coal lobbying group.

Now, aside from wondering how exactly the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would destroy Appalachian jobs, you may be puzzled about the campaign name: “Faces of Coal.” Who exactly are these faces and why are they not on this ad? You would think that using a real human face would have a stronger emotional connection than a generic stock image of a padlocked gate. Well, it turns out, the campaign did have faces — it’s just that, well, they too were as generic as the padlocked gate. 

As the Rachel Maddow Show reported, the coal lobbying group bought stock photos of people, gave them fake names and presented them as the real “faces” of Americans who would be hurt if the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining were stopped.

The embarrassing expose was probably enough to convince the coal industry to replace the fake faces with images of padlock gates, but you can still visit their campaign website and see some generic stock photos in their full glory. (Don’t miss their “Our Supporters” section where they feature just one “supporter” — no photo provided, of course — who enthusiastically remarks that, thanks to mountaintop removal mining, the mountaintops “now resemble a gorgeous national park ... It was so much more beautiful, useable and accessible than it had been before.”)

Now, before you shake your head in disbelief and rush off to catch your flight, you may want to keep your eye out for another ad series about mountaintop removal mining, this time from Earthjustice:


Sid: "I worked for 50 years in order to have at least that for a hobby or a something I could do to sit and reflect on things, but that is gone now..." (Listen to Sid's story.)


Donetta: "I am going to do all I can to try to help, to save people's lives, and help them so that they won't have to go through this with their water..." (Listen to Donetta's story.)


James: "To me, nothing is worth the loss of our mountains and streams. Without drinkable water, there is no life..." (Listen to James's story.)

I can tell you exactly who the people in the ads are: Sid Moye, Donetta Blankenship, James Tawney. They are dedicated local activists from West Virginia who have seen their communities and the mountains they grew up with destroyed by mountaintop removal mining. No stock images, no fake names — just real stories of real people. Visit the campaign site and you can hear Sid, Donetta and James tell their own stories. Then you can add your own.

Trust them when they tell you that living next to a mountaintop removal mining site — with the constant explosions, flattened mountains, denuded hillsides and polluted streams — is no stroll in a national park. They should know — they are the real faces of coal.

When the faces of coal aren't real people
New ad campaign by the coal industry serves up fakes — and gets caught.