Thanks to this comment from Chris (proprietor of the excellent OrganicMatter blog), I came across this diary over at DailyKos, which is one of the best I’ve ever read.

It’s about coal, and it’s written by a guy who grew up around coal mining and has been involved in the industry his whole life (and still is). Quit reading this and go read it instead.

Ah, but if you must hang around, I shall summarize. He makes three basic points.

First, the surface coal mining (or strip mining) is much, much cleaner these days than you think it is.

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Reclamation is meticulous, so well done I don’t even expect you to believe it. In a typical situation, the topsoil and a good part of the subsoil are removed from the area and stored before mining begins. Large surface rocks that are part of the natural landscape are also removed. A biological census determines the species mix for every acre of land to be mined. When mining is complete, the surface is returned to a condition as close as possible to the original contours. Streambeds are replaced layer by layer. Topsoil is restored. Those surface rocks are put back just where they were. A plant mix that hits the original species mix down to the most esoteric weed is put in place. In fact, the mining industry keeps several greenhouses in business to produce everything from twisted pinyon pine to herbs that are sacred to Hopi healers. The reclamation is, by far, the most expensive cost in surface mining. The people involved are almost to a person folks with degrees in wildlife biology, fisheries, agriculture, and related fields. These people think of themselves as environmentalists. They’re good at their work. The results are nothing less than amazing.

I can guarantee you, absolutely guarantee, that if I put you in a surface mining area of Wyoming or New Mexico or Arizona, you would not be able to tell me what land had been mined, and what land had not. I know you still don’t believe it. But I tried.

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Second, the reason the coal industry has improved so much over the last 30 years is that we made it. It was government regulation that did it. Coal companies…

… won’t lift one damn finger unless we make them. Without regulation, they would backslide in a heartbeat, and without more regulation, they won’t take another step.

Third, and related to the second, is that the industry still has two huge, ongoing black marks on its operations: mountaintop removal mining and old power plants. Both, crucially, have been enabled by rollbacks in the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act, for which we can thank George W. Bush.

He finishes with a rousing call to action:

First, bills will come before congress this summer to restore the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to the regulations as they existed before Bush ripped out the heart of this legislation. Back the restoration of these acts. Support Julia Bond and her organization. Support Appalachian Voices. These organizations are run by people local to the area, and they have a lot of respect from the people of West Virginia – miners included. Honestly, I think restoring the Clean Air Act is a nearly impossible fight under this administration and this congress. But I think that mountaintop removal is so insanely hideous that even Republicans will feel the heat to end this practice. Shine the light on this, people. Make it a priority. We can win this one.

You may find the second thing harder than the first. I want you to understand that the coal industry isn’t going to go away any time soon. The United States has abundant coal reserves, and much of that coal can be mined using well understood, economical methods. Coal produces more than half the electricity in the country. I’m not asking you to stop fighting for reductions in CO2 production, or limits on pollution, or to let up on these guys one inch. Stay on top of them. Force them to adopt tougher and tougher regulations. I’ll be right there with you. What has been accomplished is remarkable. I’ve no doubt that if we raise the bar again, they will find a way to get over it.

This is a great example of what is best about blogs: an authenticity and personal perspective that you just couldn’t find anywhere else. Lots of food for thought.