There are two very distinct groups of outsiders who are active in the coalfields. The first group comes in heed of the call of Mammon, to make a quick buck by destroying mountains and taking away their coal. The second group is here only because of the first; it comes in heed of the call of citizens who have reached out in desperation to save their homelands.
The first group includes familiar names in its ranks. Massey comes to the coalfields from Richmond, VA. Arch and Patriot come from St. Louis. These outsiders have made lots of money while visiting the coalfields. On their way home they drop a few coins behind for politicians to fawn about, but they take the majority of the wealth with them. More important than the few coins, these outsiders leave in their wake a level of environmental degradation unprecedented in the annals of history.
They have buried over 1000 miles of fresh water streams and have poisoned the rest. They have permanently destroyed over a million acres of a hardwood forest so diverse and lush that ecologists call it a temperate rainforest. These outsiders have taken away good, unionized deep mining jobs.
They have made it nearly impossible for the development of a responsible economy: no longer can most of the mountains reach high enough to harness the power of wind; no longer can fresh water be commercialized to quench the thirst of a drying out planet; no longer can herbalists find sufficient ginseng, ginger, or cohosh in the woods; no longer can small farms prosper in stream bottoms that are now toxic.
One may argue that while the stockholders, executives, and board members are outsiders, the work is actually being carried out by community members themselves; so, technically, the destruction is an inside job. This argument fails for two reasons. First, only a small percentage of mountain top removal workers live in communities directly affected by mountain top removal. In Southern West Virginia, most miners live in Beckley, Bluefield, Logan, Madison, and the greater Charleston area. Though they live close to the destruction, they are not poisoning their own backyards. In addition, for some steps in a mountain top removal operation, subcontracters bring men from out of state and keep them a few months until the job is done. Subcontracting is a shady business and merits its own post…
The second reason this argument fails is that community members who do partake in the destruction have little choice since King Coal has undermined other ways to make a living. Because mountain top removal has taken away so many jobs, there is no longer a demand for teachers, business runners, or civil servants. In addition, alternate development is nearly impossible because: a) land is destroyed or poisoned; or b)the remaining land is owned by coal interests who will squat on it until it is financially feasible to destroy it. Read about the coal river wind campaign for an illustration of my point.
Unfortunately, coal companies aren’t the only members of the first group of outsiders. Others, such as Halliburton, will come to drop off their “waste” in abandoned mines. Power companies come to pollute the air and store their slurry in ash-ponds like the one which collapsed in Tennessee. Gas companies come and leave thousands of rigs to suck out natural gas, while in the process bulldozing roads and clearing forests. Privatized prisons, not welcome in very many places, also come to the coalfields and spread their comfort and joy.
The other group of outsiders is much different. With a few notable exceptions, such as Robert Kennedy Jr, you are probably unfamiliar with the names in its ranks. They do not come for money. Though they could use their talents, skills, time, and energy for selfish purposes, they employ them to address a monumental wrong: an injustice that all too many people conveniently like to ignore. These outsiders came because they could not ignore the pleas of coalfield citizens.
Among their ranks are environmental engineers, journalists, organizers, documentarians, geologists, biologists, historians, health officials, and novelists.
While these outsiders may have originally come to the coalfields to fight for justice, they come back to fight with their friends.
It is our ability to empathize that makes us human. When we allow greed to overcome empathy, we are back in the jungle, clawing for survival, always insecure and never moving forward.