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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4 responses to “Appalachia’s Own Unstoppable Oil Spill

  1. Suzi G

    I always hope education will fix these situations but I think that may be naive. But it def. takes a large event for people to take notice, and then they only notice for a few weeks. And W.V. is slowly dying and killing its own people, so no one else notices. And what’s sad is that so many people in W.V. support the coal industry. It’s kind of like what we talked about with classist veganism, but with environmental issues. But it has become beyond urgent, and still they resist. This is the same as the exploitation that illegal immigrants face. People feel as though they can’t afford to try and change, but it’s killing them. I don’t know what it will take for people in West Virginia to say “enough” but apparently it’s not poisoning or the insane amount of exploitation going on. How come some of the largest corporations work out of there, but W.V has some of the poorest schools, worst roads, etc. ? Because these companies don’t pay taxes since they bring in jobs. Dangerous, low-paying jobs that barely keep their employees off welfare, if that. I know there are many people in W.V who do protest, but I wonder what it would take for the majority to do so.

    • In my own observation (totally unreliable), I would say the number of people that actively support mountain top removal are outnumbered by people who actively are against it, and the people who don’t know what to think and are conflicted are the majority.

      I just want to be clear that A LOT of people in West Virginia have said “enough”–a diverse group of people, too. Mostly, I think people need to have alternatives economically. And a lot of people who feel this way either have alternatives or believe in the possibility of them. Right now I really do believe things are turning around. But its the people who are conflicted that I think need to draw the parallels. Them, and those outside of Appalachia who have no idea of the problems that the whole lifecycle of coal-fired power causes.

      As for education, I don’t think saying “this is a thing that is happening that is bad” works for people in Appalachia, because they know. You have to say “This bad thing is a thing we could not have to do if we did this thing instead, which would a) work, b) create many good, long-term jobs, and c) not destroy your drinking water supply, not require you to move, not destroy the land you love.” So apparently I think creating alternatives for people is important. I don’t know how long that could take, and I don’t have concrete ideas. I also don’t have the cred to say what to do– I’ve only been here a year and I’m bailing.

      There are plenty of creative people in Appalachia with all kinds of ideas, and the local governments should encourage and listen to them. Nurturing small businesses with an interest in the people and the environment, rather than spending a lot of money and deregulating trying to attract big corporations, is one example I would give.

      The rest of the country should recognize their part and the consequences for them as well. We should take the time to know where things we own come from, and not be afraid to confront what we find out, and care. We should demand regulation of industries of all kinds. Because the point is, this isn’t just a West Virginia, or just an Appalachia issue, just in the same way this oil spill isn’t.

  2. I wanted to comment to say, “well stated!”, though the length of the comments above kind of intimidated me. Love the blog – you’re a great writer. Also, the good and Philly-residing friend (Sarah) of a good friend of mine knows you, apparently. It’s a small world. Do you get back to Boone much?

    • Wow I juuuust got this comment. Thanks for your compliment. I wonder who the person who knows me in Philly is? I have a couple of friends there. I haven’t been back to Boone a single time since I left which makes me kind of sad! Your blog is awesome, and I’m really impressed at the work you’re doing.

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