Overcoming Mountain Top Removal

There is a tragedy taking place in the hills of Appalachia. Mountain top removal coal mining has turned 500 thousand acres of rugged grandeur into barren moonscapes, buried over 1,000 miles of head-water streams, poisoned the air and water, and has deracinated thousands by eliminating jobs or simply making homeplaces uninhabitable. Unfortunately, mountain top removal is only a symptom of a much deeper and graver problem. For the people that remain in the coalfields, there is a constant and harrowing recognition of their precariousness. The choices seem clear enough: abet the coal industry in the destruction of the land or be financially destroyed.

 For good reason, many people believe that working in a mountain top removal related job is the ONLY way to support a family.  Though only the most crass coal company propagandists exhalt the aesthetic and environmental benefits of mountain top removal, it is common to hear a visceral “people gotta live” when the practice is challenged. Mountain top removal is thus justified as a “necessary evil.” Nobody wants to destroy the earth, but when it comes to burrying streams and wildlife or losing health insurance: “people gotta live.” This is the ultimatum the coal industry and its choir of politicians have successfully popularized. Is this account rooted in an inalienable reality? If not, how can a new and better reality be reconstructed from the ruins?

The reason that this myth is so ingrained can be easily demonstrated by a typical scenario. John Doe gets laid off by a downsizing mining operation. John doesn’t have a college degree or professional expertise. He is thinking about going back to school but in the meantime who will pay the heating bill? To keep his wife’s car from being repossessed, he takes a job at McDonalds so  his family can stay just above water. His wife now has to take a job at Walmart. She is tired and pregnant but she doesn’t complain that her break was withheld because the boss makes sure she knows that others would gladly take her job. John becomes depressed and begins to spend his paychecks on oxycotin because it is the only thing that allows him to relax. The kids start struggling in school……..

Obviously I could continue the downfall of the Doe family but that would be berating the point. The fact is that the above tragedy awaits MOST people who lose their job with the mine (eventually this fate awaits all miners–the coal isn’t going to last forever). The mining companies take full advantage of this fact and exploit it to no end; they are quick to point out potential challenges to their employees. It is very common for owners and operators to persuade their crews to attend regulatory hearings, write letters to the editor, or even bully environmental/social activists. Therefore, when brave souls do protest about strip-mining, they can expect harrassment, threats, and even violence from their desperate neighbors. Case in point: An activist from Bob White, WV has to pay someone to drive her children to school because her car has been ran off the road more than once by coal trucks (this same activist has been forced to hire two 24 hour body guards).

It is no wonder why most people do not speak out (although it must be said that hundreds of brave souls have put their neck on the line to stop strip-mining). On the flipside–and this is the tragedy–it is no wonder oppressed strip miners are willing to lash out against their oppressed neighbors.

It is important for the salvation of Southern West Virginia that this ultimatum manufactured by the coal industry is deconstructed immediately. As an academic exercise this is a fairly simple job. The ultimatum is sustained because the coal industry has a virtual monopoly on the politics and economics of Southern WV.  Through political machinations at the beginning of the 20th century, coal companies were able to speculate most of the mineral rights and land throughtout WV. Although most of the land is unpopulated, the wilderness not yet destroyed is owned by coal companies or land companies waiting for the right time to lease it to coal companies. They are able to sit on the land thanks to favorable taxes that are so low (on large chunks) they can be virtually ignored.  Though several peaks have been confirmed as ideal for windmills, renewable industries cannot get a foothold because: 1) coal companies own the land and won’t sell; or 2)The state will not subsidize industries that threaten coal’s hegemony.  Meanwhile, the state has offered tremendous subsidies to Big Coal for ”clean-coal” technological research, proposed Coal to Liquid facilites, and to clear the way for an Interstate Highway. The Coal Industry is even encouraged to strip-mine by tax breaks given for thin seams of coal near the surface. Despite 500,000 acres of flat land left over from MTR, only ONE industrial complex operates on a reclaimed site (and this is a very minor lumber mill).

(A citizens group based in the heart of the Coalfields has put their energy behind a campaign to bring windmills to their community. Visit their webpage http://www.coalriverwind.org/)

Such a socially and environmentally devastating practice as strip-mining REQUIRES poverty to operate. By blocking political and economic alternatives, Big Coal creates the same poverty that sustains it. Poverty and strip-mining are connected by a nasty cycle of mutual reinforcement.

 The way to break this cycle is to first undermine Big Coal’s political machine. Once the political impediments are broken, then the door will be opened for economic change. Large tracts of land that the coal companies squat on will be taxed to high heaven. Subsidies will be given to attract industries (especially those that would capitalize on the–though rapidly evaporating–sources of fresh water and wind in the region). In an even better scenario, the Coal Industry, Army Corps of Engineers, and government agencies will be sued for their criminal activities and negligence. Such compensatory and punitive damage can sustain Southern West Virginia after the initial depression shutting down big coal would probably induce. This is certainly justifiable. For one reason, in all but a few cases, Big Coal has flaunted its legal obligation to clean up and help develop MTR sites. In a changed political climate, lawsuits against the derelect companies could bankroll government directed efforts at reclamation. Hence, something resembling the CCC could employ residents that lost their job destroying mountains–though many of the destroyers are contracted from other states. The CCC work would be temporary, but would last atleast as long as an MTR job. Furthermore, true development could lead to sustainable jobs. Indeed, cleaning up the mess left by strip-mining will require manpower well into the future.

It is easy to save southern West Virginia on paper, but how do we make it a reality? Of course, Southern West Virginians are suffering the most and these communities will have to be empowered for meaningful social change. There has already been a valliant effort in many communities to resist–particularly in the Coal River Valley–spurred by the group “Coal River Mountain Watch.” While these efforts are certainly important, they must be upheld by a state wide campaign to fundamentally change the government. A mass movement in the Eastern and Northern Panhandels, as well as the Southeastern and central part of the state, has the potential to alter the political landscape. This movement would naturally concentrate on mountain top removal because its visceral images and stories have proven to mobilize support.  Of course, obtaining clean election laws (the fight is already underway by OHVEC and others) is a necessary requisite for future political justice.

Perhaps the first step in breaking the ultimatum is the next gubernatorial election. I truly believe in the potential of the Mountain Party’s appeal. If packaged and promoted with enough zeal, I believe enough West Virginians would gravitate towards such a nationally unique position. The fight for justice has a long journey, but if the bad guys can move mountains, so can we.

 Addendum:  Residents of other states can also help end Mountain Top Removal. The crime is occuring in KY, VA, TN, and PN as well, and may expand into Maryland and Alabama. Even if you do not live in one of these states, you can donate to one of the many organizations fighting MTR or even come and help as an intern! Coal River Mountain Watch even has a volunteer house.

In addition, there is current legislation that will ban mountain top removal. H.R.2169
Title: To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to clarify that fill material cannot be comprised of waste.
Sponsor: Rep Pallone, Frank, Jr. [NJ-6] (introduced 5/3/2007)      Cosponsors (141)
Latest Major Action: 5/4/2007 Referred to House subcommittee. Status: Referred to the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment.

Here is a list of cosponsors:

Rep Shays, Christopher [CT-4] – 5/3/2007
Rep Blumenauer, Earl [OR-3] – 5/3/2007
Rep Capps, Lois [CA-23] – 5/3/2007
Rep Frank, Barney [MA-4] – 5/3/2007
Rep Moran, James P. [VA-8] – 5/3/2007
Rep Chandler, Ben [KY-6] – 5/3/2007
Rep McCollum, Betty [MN-4] – 5/3/2007
Rep Farr, Sam [CA-17] – 5/3/2007
Rep Langevin, James R. [RI-2] – 5/3/2007
Rep Sires, Albio [NJ-13] – 5/3/2007
Rep Grijalva, Raul M. [AZ-7] – 5/3/2007
Rep Payne, Donald M. [NJ-10] – 5/3/2007
Rep Hinchey, Maurice D. [NY-22] – 5/3/2007
Rep Gutierrez, Luis V. [IL-4] – 5/3/2007
Rep Lofgren, Zoe [CA-16] – 5/3/2007
Rep Schwartz, Allyson Y. [PA-13] – 5/3/2007
Rep Delahunt, William D. [MA-10] – 5/3/2007
Rep Berman, Howard L. [CA-28] – 5/3/2007
Rep Miller, George [CA-7] – 5/3/2007
Rep Honda, Michael M. [CA-15] – 5/3/2007
Rep Smith, Adam [WA-9] – 5/3/2007
Rep Conyers, John, Jr. [MI-14] – 5/3/2007
Rep Miller, Brad [NC-13] – 5/3/2007
Rep Hare, Phil [IL-17] – 5/3/2007
Rep Schakowsky, Janice D. [IL-9] – 5/3/2007
Rep Woolsey, Lynn C. [CA-6] – 5/3/2007
Rep Schiff, Adam B. [CA-29] – 5/3/2007
Rep Kucinich, Dennis J. [OH-10] – 5/3/2007
Rep Serrano, Jose E. [NY-16] – 5/3/2007
Rep McHugh, John M. [NY-23] – 5/3/2007
Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3] – 5/3/2007
Rep Meehan, Martin T. [MA-5] – 5/3/2007
Rep Stark, Fortney Pete [CA-13] – 5/3/2007
Rep Cooper, Jim [TN-5] – 5/3/2007
Rep Gilchrest, Wayne T. [MD-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep McNerney, Jerry [CA-11] – 5/3/2007
Rep Inslee, Jay [WA-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep DeFazio, Peter A. [OR-4] – 5/3/2007
Rep Kennedy, Patrick J. [RI-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep McNulty, Michael R. [NY-21] – 5/3/2007
Rep Van Hollen, Chris [MD-8] – 5/3/2007
Rep Waxman, Henry A. [CA-30] – 5/3/2007
Rep Rothman, Steven R. [NJ-9] – 5/3/2007
Rep Tierney, John F. [MA-6] – 5/3/2007
Rep McDermott, Jim [WA-7] – 5/3/2007
Rep Yarmuth, John A. [KY-3] – 5/3/2007
Rep Rush, Bobby L. [IL-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep Cummings, Elijah E. [MD-7] – 5/3/2007
Rep Platts, Todd Russell [PA-19] – 5/3/2007
Rep Clay, Wm. Lacy [MO-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep Hodes, Paul W. [NH-2] – 5/3/2007
Rep Rangel, Charles B. [NY-15] – 5/3/2007
Rep Lewis, John [GA-5] – 5/3/2007
Rep Fattah, Chaka [PA-2] – 5/3/2007
Rep Allen, Thomas H. [ME-1] – 5/3/2007
Rep Hastings, Alcee L. [FL-23] – 5/3/2007
Rep Tauscher, Ellen O. [CA-10] – 5/3/2007
Rep Kildee, Dale E. [MI-5] – 5/3/2007
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9] – 5/3/2007
Rep DeLauro, Rosa L. [CT-3] – 5/3/2007
Rep Shuler, Heath [NC-11] – 5/3/2007
Rep Spratt, John M., Jr. [SC-5] – 5/3/2007
Rep Olver, John W. [MA-1] – 5/10/2007
Rep Wolf, Frank R. [VA-10] – 5/14/2007
Rep Markey, Edward J. [MA-7] – 5/14/2007
Rep Matsui, Doris O. [CA-5] – 5/14/2007
Rep Higgins, Brian [NY-27] – 5/14/2007
Rep Neal, Richard E. [MA-2] – 5/16/2007
Rep Davis, Danny K. [IL-7] – 5/16/2007
Rep Slaughter, Louise McIntosh [NY-28] – 5/21/2007
Rep Carson, Julia [IN-7] – 5/21/2007
Rep Holt, Rush D. [NJ-12] – 5/21/2007
Rep Engel, Eliot L. [NY-17] – 5/23/2007
Rep Wu, David [OR-1] – 5/23/2007
Rep Solis, Hilda L. [CA-32] – 5/23/2007
Rep Norton, Eleanor Holmes [DC] – 5/23/2007
Rep Capuano, Michael E. [MA-8] – 5/23/2007
Rep Baldwin, Tammy [WI-2] – 6/5/2007
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27] – 6/5/2007
Rep Wexler, Robert [FL-19] – 6/5/2007
Rep Ellison, Keith [MN-5] – 6/5/2007
Rep Pascrell, Bill, Jr. [NJ-8] – 6/11/2007
Rep Levin, Sander M. [MI-12] – 6/19/2007
Rep Johnson, Henry C. “Hank,” Jr. [GA-4] – 6/25/2007
Rep Kirk, Mark Steven [IL-10] – 6/25/2007
Rep Emanuel, Rahm [IL-5] – 7/10/2007
Rep Watt, Melvin L. [NC-12] – 7/10/2007
Rep Jackson, Jesse L., Jr. [IL-2] – 7/25/2007
Rep Cohen, Steve [TN-9] – 7/25/2007
Rep Davis, Susan A. [CA-53] – 8/1/2007
Rep Scott, Robert C. “Bobby” [VA-3] – 8/1/2007
Rep Bishop, Timothy H. [NY-1] – 9/6/2007
Rep Price, David E. [NC-4] – 9/17/2007
Rep Butterfield, G. K. [NC-1] – 9/26/2007
Rep Ryan, Tim [OH-17] – 10/1/2007
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [NY-8] – 10/1/2007
Rep Weiner, Anthony D. [NY-9] – 10/1/2007
Rep Filner, Bob [CA-51] – 10/1/2007
Rep Brown, Corrine [FL-3] – 10/4/2007
Rep Jones, Stephanie Tubbs [OH-11] – 10/4/2007
Rep Jackson-Lee, Sheila [TX-18] – 10/9/2007
Rep Shea-Porter, Carol [NH-1] – 10/9/2007
Rep Lynch, Stephen F. [MA-9] – 10/9/2007
Rep Lipinski, Daniel [IL-3] – 10/15/2007
Rep Murphy, Patrick J. [PA-8] – 10/18/2007
Rep Hall, John J. [NY-19] – 10/18/2007
Rep Sestak, Joe [PA-7] – 10/18/2007
Rep Wynn, Albert Russell [MD-4] – 11/5/2007
Rep Doggett, Lloyd [TX-25] – 11/8/2007
Rep Arcuri, Michael A. [NY-24] – 11/8/2007
Rep Dicks, Norman D. [WA-6] – 11/8/2007
Rep Sanchez, Loretta [CA-47] – 11/15/2007
Rep Gordon, Bart [TN-6] – 11/15/2007
Rep Sarbanes, John P. [MD-3] – 11/15/2007
Rep Eshoo, Anna G. [CA-14] – 11/15/2007
Rep Roybal-Allard, Lucille [CA-34] – 11/15/2007
Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] – 11/15/2007
Rep Clarke, Yvette D. [NY-11] – 12/4/2007
Rep Israel, Steve [NY-2] – 12/4/2007
Rep Udall, Mark [CO-2] – 12/4/2007
Rep Andrews, Robert E. [NJ-1] – 12/11/2007
Rep Baird, Brian [WA-3] – 1/16/2008
Rep Ackerman, Gary L. [NY-5] – 1/16/2008
Rep Towns, Edolphus [NY-10] – 1/22/2008
Rep Tsongas, Niki [MA-5] – 1/22/2008
Rep DeGette, Diana [CO-1] – 2/14/2008
Rep Braley, Bruce L. [IA-1] – 2/14/2008
Rep Lowey, Nita M. [NY-18] – 2/27/2008
Rep Sutton, Betty [OH-13] – 4/9/2008
Rep Kilpatrick, Carolyn C. [MI-13] – 4/9/2008
Rep Hinojosa, Ruben [TX-15] – 4/9/2008
Rep McCarthy, Carolyn [NY-4] – 4/14/2008
Rep Waters, Maxine [CA-35] – 4/14/2008
Rep Smith, Christopher H. [NJ-4] – 4/22/2008
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-20] – 4/22/2008
Rep Murphy, Christopher S. [CT-5] – 4/22/2008
Rep Courtney, Joe [CT-2] – 5/6/2008
Rep Carnahan, Russ [MO-3] – 5/12/2008
Rep Cleaver, Emanuel [MO-5] – 6/11/2008
Rep Carson, Andre [IN-7] – 6/11/2008
Rep Christensen, Donna M. [VI] – 6/19/2008
If your representative is NOT on the list, then you could help persuade him to join. 

Moreover, visit www.ilovemountains.org to see where your power is coming from. Try and reduce your consumption. If your school or town receives its power from coal extracted from a strip-mine, convince it to look elsewhere for its power needs. There is a bill in the North Carolina legislature banning the STATE from using coal from mountain top removal sites.

There are many other ways to help, but I can’t think of them at the moment. If you can think of something not included, please comment below.

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8 Responses to “Overcoming Mountain Top Removal”

  1. […] week’s must read piece is over at “A Mountain Journey“: …Though only the most crass coal company propagandists exhalt the aesthetic and […]

    • We should all be working to the ethos of sustainability – no question.
      In wrecking the environment on such a mammoth scale and depleting finite resources what are we leaving for future generations?
      Then there is the question as to whether alternatives will ever be actively pushed if exploitation is a cheaper option. Witness the oil position: it wasn’t till we reached the point of reaching the point of seriously declining reserves that we began to explore alternatives. This is ridiculous and it means our finite reserves of precious resources are depleted and squandered thus denying future generations better options in more reasoned and frugal use.
      Throughout the World we are butchering our environment in haste to feed wasteful directions.
      It is time for commonsense to prevail !

  2. The scenario you describe could also read: Jonn Doe gets laid off by a mining operation who cant get a permit in a timely manner Or John Doe gets laid off a highway construction job because the valley fill needed for the road cant utilized. Or John Doe gets laid off his coal mining job because another ” John Doe” keeps disrupting the workplace “protesting”

    • It could. However, several thousand more “John Does” have lost their jobs because of coal company greed (including mtr) rather than people resisting coal company greed.

  3. Tonya Ranae Says:

    Ok, I was reading this looking for “FACTS”, but I STOPPED when John Doe got hooked on pills. Really? All people from rural areas lose their jobs and get hooked on pills? Why not “John Doe got laid off, but due to the flat land created by strip mining a top rate hospital was able to build a facility. Mr. and Ms. Doe went to the Technical School’s nursing program and got an even more promising future in their hometown” ?? They now enjoy the view of over 150 elk (which are able to thrive thanks to the habitat created by RECLAIMED LAND) from their new home. Because, I have actually heard that one…. A TRUE STORY with no pills involved!!!!!!

  4. construction jobs are on the rise again these days because the recession is almost over .*:

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