Suppose someone wanted to build a waste dump in New England that would blanket an area twice the size of Rhode Island, ruining it for the next 10,000 years. Would you approve?
How about allowing a factory that would destroy the Mississippi River from above St. Louis all the way to New Orleans. Would you sign off on that permit?
Well, maybe we could take up the monument next to the the USS Arizona and sell off the wreck for scrap. Would that get your okay?
The answer to any of these proposals shouldn't just be no, it should be outrage. But we do allow it, have been allowing it for years, and continue to allow it despite promises to the contrary -- so long as it's in the Appalachians. In the Appalachians it's fine to bury thousands of miles of streams and rivers under waste and pollute the remainder of the waterways for both people and wildlife. In the Appalachians it's okay to erase the richest hardwood forest ecology anywhere on the planet for all time, to lay waste to communities, to tear down mountains that have stood longer than there has been life on land.
In the Appalachians, it's okay to take the most sacred site in the history of American labor, the battlefield where union miners fought not just against mercenaries sent in to eradicate them and their families but against , and to delist that site from the Park Service register of national historical sites.
Why would anyone allow the Park Service to delist a battlefield where over 100 men died and nearly 1000 of those who lived were tried for "treason against a state?" We do it for the same reason we tear down the mountains, for the same reason we eradicate the forest, for the same reason we destroy the communities, for the same reason we fill in the streams. We do it for the money.
It's not the jobs. Mountaintop removal mining takes workers than the underground mining it replaces. MTR doesn't compete with surface mining in the west, it directly competes with eastern mines that take more workers but cause far less damage to the environment. Mountaintop removal costs jobs, and it always has.
It's not because we need the coal. Mountaintop removal provides less than 10% of the coal we consume nationally, and of that coal, every bit, could be easily replaced by other production. Watch how the stock of companies given permits for MTR jumps even though there's no demand for additional coal in the market. Even if we didn't lift a finger to change our demand for coal (and many of the sites now permitted for mountaintop removal are among the best locations for wind power in the east), MTR coal simply replaces other coal -- it allows mining companies to close higher cost mines. You know, the ones that are "less efficient," meaning they have more workers or they require reclamation of the mined land.
We allow mountaintop removal because mountaintop removal is cheaper. Not enough cheaper that it makes any difference in the price of coal on the market -- hey, we're only talking 10% of the production after all -- but cheap enough that it puts millions of extra bucks into certain pockets. Pockets like those of men who think they can buy Supreme court judges. Pockets of men who can and do buy politicians at all levels of government. Men who can spend millions promoting the idea that there is no choice but to destroy the land for short-term jobs.
This past week, a study from the National Academy of Sciences confirmed what many have known all along. The effects of mountaintop removal mining are "pervasive and irreversible." This type of mining is not only unmatched in its destruction, but an unmatched threat to public health. It's simply not worth it.
A group of scientists on Thursday called on the U.S. government to stop issuing new permits for mountaintop coal mining, citing research that finds the practice is damaging to the environment and human health.
The scientists said no mountaintop mining permits should be granted "unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer-review and shown to remedy these problems."
That's what the science says, but that's not what the Obama administration is saying. Just this week the EPA issued several new permits for mountaintop removal. This practice isn't ending, it's accelerating, and it seems that this administration will do nothing to stop it. Studies showing that Coal River Mountain could produce more energy and more jobs -- and do so for far longer -- by adding a wind power facility that would leave the mountain intact were ignored. The freshly permitted mine there has already started operations. Blair Mountain was added to the National Register last March with great fanfare after decades of effort, but on January 8, 2010, Carol Schull, Chief of the National Register for the Park Service, announced that it was being delisted. Unless something changes, Blair Mountain will be destroyed by a non-union mountaintop removal mine. It won't be a historic site. It won't even be a mountain. Both the men and the battlefield on which they fought will be only ghosts.
But hey, it's only Appalachia. We'll pretend that we're saving people's jobs while we take away their future. We'll say that there's no choice while we ruin the landscape, spoil the waters, and pollute the air. We'll talk about how tough and self-reliant the people of the mountains are, and how they don't need outsiders interfering. Then, once we've scraped away the last ton of coal, we'll leave behind the poorest communities in the nation. It's what we've always done.
If you think it's time to do something about mountaintop removal, please pay a visit to this page at I Love Mountains to call the White House. Then turn over to Appalachian Voices for information on two pieces of pending legislation that can help end this practice.
Also be sure to read this this diary on the new study from user rperks, and this diary from DWG, both of which have more information on the science and history of MTR.
For detailed coverage and frequent updates, drop by Clem Gutta's place at West Virginia Blue and Jeff Biggers at Grist.
ASiegel's post over at Get Energy Smart is a one stop source of links for the best resources on this topic.
This is an ongoing national tragedy. It's one of those things that future generations will look back on with horror and shame. And this is an unnecessary evil, one that can be ended with the stroke of the president's pen. Please help make that happen.