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When I read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s account of the Tea Party rally in Kiener Plaza last Saturday, I was struck by the claims of one Mike Carey, President of Ohio Coal Association and the Chief Executive of of the American Council for Affordable and Reliable Energy (ACARE), newly formed to fight clean energy legislation:

Mike Carey … blasted the proposed climate change legislation, saying it would allow Congress to dictate what Americans ate, where they lived and what kinds of vehicles they drove.

Given the now familiar strategy of both the health and dirty energy industries, which is to rev up the seemingly inbred paranoia of the Tea Partiers, Carey’s evocation of overweening government control was to be expected – just more of the general Tea Party hokum.

However, in the same edition of the Post-Dispatch, I came across an article that described the events that followed Tuesday, Nov. 28, 1939, “Black Tuesday,” when the city of St. Louis  was darkened by a fog of coal smoke so dense that “Motorists drove slowly with headlights on. Streetlights, still on, made ghostly glows.”

The cheap, high-sulfur coal responsible for the miasma of pollution that had made St. Louis one of the “filthiest” cities in the nation was mined nearby in Illinois, and there were numerous local interests that had a stake in maintaining the status quo. Efforts to do something about the problem were effectively thwarted until Black Tuesday made it clear that there had to be a change. Sound familiar?

Thanks to the shock delivered by Black Tuesday, St. Louis was finally able to take the necessary steps to insure an acceptable quality of life for its citizens. I doubt that many people in the city at that time felt that government was curtailing their liberty when it stepped in and refused to give local mining interests their druthers.  

Yet last Saturday, 1500-2000 people, some of whom are probably descended from those who experienced Black Tuesday, were thumping their chests and gibbering about how “big government” wants to take away their “liberty” – all because a majority of the citizens of this democracy elected a government based on its plan of action to safeguard our quality of life and health.