West Virginia Dems Rep. Nick Rahall and Sen. Robert C. Byrd are fighting mad over some “despicable” anti-coal ads that have appeared in major publications recently.

The ads, underwritten by a natural gas company called the Chesapeake Energy Corp, show faces smudged with make-up meant to resemble coal dust under a headline reading: “Face It, Coal is Filthy.”

The campaign was pulled in the wake of Rahall’s and Byrd’s furious objections that it was unfair and misleading. They say the people featured in the ads are models, not miners, and that the Oklahoma City-based natural gas company is parading as an environmental group concerned about the hazardous effects of coal when really they’re just a “bamboozling” profit-seeker trying to swing business in their favor.

Well, this argument is all fine and good, except for one small issue: these ads depict a very real truth of life in the shadow of coal mining, and whether the people in them are real or the intent behind them is honorable is beside the much bigger point. Migrating, suffocating, ubiquitous coal dust is a hard and fast fact, as anyone who lives near a coal mining or processing facility can attest. If coal-loving congressmen want to ignore that or call the public picture of that an unfair and inaccurate stereotype, then they’re either kidding themselves or being knowingly untruthful.

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Face it, gentlemen: coal is filthy. Stop denying it, stop shifting blame, and start pressing the companies at fault to clean up their acts.