BY BRADFORD MCKEE
Among the very early priorities of the new Republican-controlled Congress was to give the greenest of lights to any corporation—corporations being people—that wants to blow off the top of a gorgeous Appalachian mountain for coal, throw the spoils into the nearest headwaters, ruin the stream, ruin much downstream, and destroy a spectrum of wildlife, not to mention human life, in the process.
The instrument was a joint resolution of the House and Senate that pulled back the Stream Protection Rule, a long-sought goal of the Obama administration to prevent mountaintop removal for mining, which took effect on January 19, Obama’s last day as president. Its reversal by Congress was presented to President Trump on February 6. The resolution kills the Obama rule, which was out to prevent the destruction of streams. Its technical language focused on preventing “material damage to the hydrologic balance” of areas outside those permitted for mountaintop mining. It would have clarified what had been the government’s ambivalence toward a practice that is good only for coal companies.
Many, many streams in Appalachia, among the last hot spots of life minding its own business on our continent, are being destroyed. There are many parties to hold responsible. One of the more vocal proponents of mountaintop removal was Massey Energy, which was acquired by Alpha Natural Resources in 2011. Massey’s former CEO, Don Blankenship, will get out of jail in May having served a one-year sentence for misdemeanor conspiracy to violate mine safety standards, which cost 29 miners their lives in West Virginia’s Upper Big Branch Mine in April 2010. But you can assume an entire industry is rubbing its hands together eagerly.
Just dreaming a little here: Is there a far-fetched way to take the offal of coal mining or any other mining, as long as it clearly is not ceasing, and find something useful and not harmful to do with it? To look at the past decade of work in the ASLA student awards, not to mention in the expertise of professionals, it would seem there is. The big disappointment with these old, suicidal ways of doing business is that more ingenuity is not put to the test. The mining companies are not going to come up with better ideas on their own. They could be shown better ways, far-fetched ways, to avoid ruining our waters, forests, air, biodiversity, and everything else in the path of mining. And, still dreaming here, if they are presented with a compelling solution they refuse to adopt, they don’t deserve to be mining.
We have an economy of bad directions here. Coal, that is, commodity carbon, is being taken from the ground to burn into the atmosphere, while simultaneously many square miles of trees are being chewed up that would otherwise fix the atmospheric carbon. You’ve heard the warnings. You know the rest.