Coal Exec: Let Us Blow Up the Appalachians or We’ll All Be Speaking Chinese
By all accounts, it was quite a show last night in Charleston, W.Va., where Don Blankenship, president of Virginia-based Massey Energy, squared off against environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. over the hot-button (and increasingly high-profile) topic of mountaintop coal mining. But the money quote, via the Charleston Gazette, comes from Blankenship:
“The mission statement for coal is prosperity for this country,” Blankenship told a packed house at the University of Charleston. “This industry is what made this country great and if we forget that, we’re going to have to learn to speak Chinese.”
He has a point: Coal is cheap, and more than 50 percent of the nation’s electricity is generated from it. But the critics aren’t arguing against the importance of coal, they’re arguing against the destructive method by which the industry is harvesting it in Appalachia. And those are two different things.
For those unfamiliar with mountaintop removal, the gist of the issue is this: Coal companies have learned that they can save time and money by blowing the tops off of the Appalachian Mountains — the oldest range in the country and among the oldest in the world — in order to reach the seams of coal contained inside. The heavy machinery used in the process means that the companies need fewer laborers; and lax enforcement of environmental laws, both federal and state, has allowed companies to dump the waste into adjacent stream valleys, which saves the cost of trucking it to more distant dumping sites. That the process violates the Clean Water Act has been no problem in the eyes of West Virginia’s powerful Democrats.
The industry argues that this process creates much needed jobs in a downtrodden part of the country — ignoring the inconvenient fact that harvesting the coal by other methods would create even more jobs. Environmentalists, for their part, say that mountaintop removal comes at the too-high cost of poisoning waterways, contaminating air, killing off wildlife and flooding nearby homes.
“This is the worst environmental crime that has ever happened in our history,” Kennedy said. “These companies are liquidating this state for cash with these gigantic machines.”
The 90-minute debate wasn’t going to change any minds among the hundreds of miners and environmentalists in attendance. But as ABC News accurately noted, “the real audience extends far beyond West Virginia and central Appalachia; it’s the millions of Americans who don’t know a strip mine from a slurry impoundment, but whose anger or acceptance of mountaintop mining could tip the political balance one way or the other.”
Indeed, the more exposure this issue gets, the tougher it will be for Washington lawmakers to accept the decimation of the country’s oldest mountain range.