Monthly Archives: June 2010

And also

Here’s a good post from Ken Ward Jr. at  his Coal Tattoo Blog today.  I think it’s helpful if you want to know what’s going on here with this stuff.  Also, yesterday was West Virginia Day!:

West Virginia Day update: Another year older

June 22, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

A year ago on West Virginia Day, I wrote a piece for Jason Keeling’s A Better West Virginia blog about the challenges West Virginia faces in figuring out its future and how the future interacts with the coal industry.

Among other things, I wrote in that post:

Through the climate crisis and the continued outrage over the damage caused by mountaintop removal, West Virginians are confronted with major challenges about our coal industry. While coal no longer has the statewide economic impacts it once did, it is still a major source of good jobs in coal-producing counties — and in some places is really the only economic engine. But the state has never really fully faced up to questions like: If coal is so good, why are all of the places it is mined still so poor? That’s changing though, because the global challenge of dealing with global warming, and the national furor over mountaintop removal, are pushing us along.

We’ve seen some fascinating and important developments since then, including the remarkable two statements from Sen. Robert C. Byrd (see here and here) about the future of our state’s relationship with coal. Among other things, Sen. Byrd advised us:

The sovereignty of West Virginia must also be respected. The monolithic power of industry should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities. Our coal mining communities do not have to be marked by a lack of economic diversity and development that can potentially squelch the voice of the people. People living in coal communities deserve to have a free hand in managing their own local affairs and public policies without undue political pressure to submit to the desires of industry.

But we’ve also seen other political developments, like Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s increased hostility to dealing with climate change, and Rep. Nick J. Rahall’s refusal to even consider both sides of the mountaintop removal issue.

We continue to be educated by new reports on the science, economics and on-the-ground realities of coal. There was the great report by Downstream Strategies about the inevitable decline of Central Appalachian coal production, the blockbuster paper in the prestigious journal Science about the impacts of mountaintop removal,  more work by West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx about the connections between coal and health problems in the region, a National Academy of Sciences study on coal’s huge hidden costs, and a report by the group Physicians for Social Responsibility about coal’s Assault on Human Health.

As I mentioned in a post last week, this past year also shocked many folks back into the reality of the terrible toll that coal mining can have of mining families, when 29 workers died in Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch Mine on April 5. It remains to be seen what sorts of lessons we’ll learn or reforms will come from that disaster, the worst in the coal industry in 40 years.

There are some groups, like the JOBS Project, working hard to diversify and green West Virginia’s economy. But one thing that I wrote about a year ago on West Virginia seems to not be really getting much attention, and that’s this promise from the Obama administration, mentioned when the EPA announced its crackdown on mountaintop removal:

Federal agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

Is there hope that West Virginia is moving forward and confronting these issues a positive way that will make the state a better place for live? What do you think?

Some of the things Robert Byrd has said in the past year really are incredible, and I think either a. a sign that things are changing or b. a sign he’s felt this way his whole (very long) life and is just getting around to it now.  Also, note the mention of Boone People, if that is the kind of thing you are inclined to note.

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Appalachia’s Own Unstoppable Oil Spill

I’m moving.  Like I said only two entries ago but many months ago, I am going to New Orleans.  Since deciding that, you might have noticed there’s been a little bit of an environmental disaster.  If you were going to ask me the same questions my coworkers asked me every day the last month I was working with them, and I was not worried about causin’ trouble, these would be the answers I give you:

–Yes, I am still going

–No, I’m not going to work for BP.  (Alternately) No, I don’t have any specific plans to wash off birds.

–Yes, I too am sad that I won’t be able to eat the seafood soon.  But you know, I can’t eat much fish here in West Virginia either, due to the mercury content of the fish.  The oil spill was an accident, but here in West Virginia (and in plenty of other places in the country) we gladly continue to poison the populations in our rivers and streams in order to “keep the lights on” by burning coal.    In West Virginia, most of this electricity is exported.  This means that even if you live in a state with progressive environmental policies, you’re likely still polluting headwaters somewhere.

–Yeah, It’s really upsetting. Though, frankly, not much more upsetting than the common and oft-defended practice of blowing up mountains in the state.   I don’t want to rank them, since they’re both terrible, but if you’re in West Virginia and you’re upset about the fact that this could be causing permanent ecosystem damage, its effect on the water supply, and its effect on the economy, take a look in your backyard.  This is happening here too. Every single day. You probably know people this is affecting personally–you probably ARE one.  You should transfer your energy to getting mad at Massey Energy and other companies that depend on the destruction of all other livelihoods through mountaintop removal so that their investors and no one else can profit.  You should transfer your anger at the Obama administration for not acting sooner to people who care more about what you think–your local politicians who work with the coal companies to make sure they can keep blowing up mountains.

Like I said, I’m not interested in ranking extraction industry destruction.  I just want to call attention to the fact that it is completely insane to me how angry people are at BP but how they won’t get angry at the coal companies who are deliberately destroying ecosystems and communities and yes, also the economy. I’m so glad people are finally asking whether or not this is worth it.  Like the “outsiders” that protest here about mountaintop removal, we have every right to ask that, we have every right to be angry when there aren’t solutions, we have every right to demand change because its our ocean too, just like our mountains are the “outsider’s” mountains.  If we criticize BP without turning the same eye to coal producers, then we are making a huge mistake.

Edit for clarification:

Many many people in West Virginia do get angry at coal companies, and I didn’t mean for this to come off as critical of people in this state.  I was using this format to draw the parallels for people outside of the region.

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