Photo montage from Razing Appalachia, a PBS Independent Lens film from Sasha Waters Freyer . After I published this, The Guardian commissioned me to do a slightly longer version, published on August 19 as "The myth of mountaintop removal mining: The myth of mountaintop removal mining: Big Coal says it's a tough choice: we can have prosperity and jobs or a pristine environment, but not both. That's a Big Lie." In it I was able to link to some additional sources including: Don Shelby's piece on Xcel's retiring CEO;Todd L Cherry and Jason Shogren's 2002 study on the social cost of coal; the Environmental Law Institute's research on subsidies to the coal industry; and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory's evaluation of viable alternative energy sources. Thanks to my editor there, Matt Seaton for his valuable help, as well as to my friend from newstrust, Patricia L'Herrou for her valuable feedback, as well as my other readers there for their reviews. The site selected this post for recognition in its weekly newsletter as one of two top independent media opinion pieces (the other was Mother Jones on Rick Perry.)
Soledad O'Brien's piece on mountaintop removal is now up online with the troubling title, "Steady job or healthy environment: What would you choose?"
How about both? The mono-economy of coal is not exactly a sustainable development plan, despite what the industry would have you believe. The Appalachian Regional Commission's study noted,
As employment in Central Appalachia’s mining sector has declined over time, with levels of employment in the mining industry being 10 percent in 1960 and declining to only 2 percent in 2000, many counties that were already typically experiencing relatively poor and tenuous economic circumstances in the past have been unable to successfully adapt to changing economic conditions...The counties that have emerged from distress in the region have consistently had fewer jobs in mining and a greater number of jobs in manufacturing when compared to the counties that have remained persistently distressed.
Or as Dr. Michael Hendryx at West Virginia University and Dr. Melissa M. Ahern of Washington State University have pointed out, "The heaviest coal mining areas of Appalachia had the poorest socioeconomic conditions."
And the health toll is steep, as a number of studies have pointed out. Yesterday, West Virginia's junior senator Joe Manchin was at a constituent breakfast in Huntington bashing the EPA. The Senate now has before it the House plan, the so-called "Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011," (H.R. 2018), which would restrict U.S. EPA's ability to veto permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Janet Keating, Exectutive Director of Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition attended and publicly pointed out to Manchin that he said on the CNN program that there is no clear evidence of health impacts from MTR. She then handed him copies of the eighteen studies showing or suggesting health impacts, Manchin told Keating that at the time the CNN show was taped, these studies were not available. Huh? I had copies. Surely a U.S. Senator and former governor has better access than I?
Maybe the health and economic problems brought on by coal explain why we're not buying the attacks on the EPA: a majority of voters in four Appalachian states want their water protected and disapprove of mountaintop mining. The same day as Manchin was in Huntington, Lake Research Partners and Bellwether Research & Consulting released the results of a poll commissioned by Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Earthjustice and the Sierra Club. Of 1,315 people interviewed in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia,
Three-quarters support fully enforcing—and even increasing protections in—the Clean Water Act to safeguard streams, rivers, and lakes in their states from mountaintop removal coal mining. Fully 76% of voters across these four states support this proposal, including a 62% majority who feel that way strongly. Just 8% of voters oppose it. Support for this proposal is farreaching, encompassing solid majorities of Democrats (86%), independents (76%), Republicans (71%), and Tea Party supporters (67%).Additionally, 57 percent were opposed to mountaintop mining. Forty-two percent of those said they "strongly oppose" the process. 20 percent of the registered voters polled said they support mountaintop mining and ten percent of those said they "strongly support" it.
The reaction to the poll from Jason Hayes, the communications director for the American Coal Council? "They're doing a numbers job. They need to frighten people. They need more membership dollars...It's all very frightening if you don't understand what's going on."
I don't know about dollars, although this seems to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black. Of course, this is the industry which spends money for fancy websites to "dispel myths" by telling you that reclamation looks like this:
And speaking of dollars, they appear to be profiting our local politicians, including Mr. Manchin. As Manuel Quinones and Elana Schor pointed out,
"Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is more than just a supporter of his state's influential coal producers -- he's a full-fledged industry insider.
On his financial disclosures for 2009 and 2010, Manchin reported significant earnings from Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage that he helped run before his political star rose. In the 19 months before winning his Senate seat in a hard-fought special election, Manchin reported operating income of $1,363,916 from Enersystems. His next disclosure showed $417,255 in Enersystems income.
Of course Manchin says his investments are in a blind trust, but do you he doesn't know that what's good for the coal industry is good for Joe Manchin?
As filmmaker Mari-Lynn Evans has said the CNN program,
Mountain Top Removal Mining is not an issue of jobs v the environment. It is an issue of corporate profits and corrupt politicians v the health and safety of human beings living under MTR sites in Appalachia. WVU scientists estimate over 11,000 people die in Appalachia each year because of coal. MTR mining provides less than 4000 direct MTR jobs in West Virginia. Does that mean, for every MTR job, we must accept that those jobs will cost each of us the lives of two or three of our friends and loved ones?This is jobs v genocide. If you don't understand that, then you don't understand the story.