Why does everyone assume that coal mining in Appalachia must continue?
One other thing I wanted to point out from the NYT piece on Bush’s new mountaintop removal mining rule:
A spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, said that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to operate in mountainous regions like West Virginia that hold some of the richest low-sulfur coal seams.
Even with the best techniques and most careful reclamation, surface or underground mining will always generate mountains of dirt and rock, he said.
“There’s really no place to put the material except in the upper reaches of hollows,” the [Interior Department] official said. “If you can’t put anything in a stream, there’s really no way to even underground mine.”
Now, some folks might hear these sentiments and conclude, “well then, we can’t mine for coal in the Appalachian mountains. We’ll have to do without that coal.”
That conclusion is never discussed, much less seriously considered. Everyone — not just the Bush administration — seems to take the continued operation of the coal industry in the Appalachians as the immutable starting point of the debate. If mining companies can get the coal without destroying the landscapes, cultures, and economies in which they operate, that’s great. But if not, well, that’s life.
Why, though? Can you imagine another industry that destroys land in order to sell a product that poisons people and threatens to make the earth uninhabitable not only being allowed to operate, but having its continued profit taken as a kind of national imperative? It’s bizarre.
This is why I’m on a jihad against coal. Its present status among policymakers and the public goes beyond the canard of "cheap electricity" (itself a lie). Coal has a quasi-mythic hold on the American imagination.
It’s time to take that myth on directly. Coal’s free ride needs to end. If nothing else, I want to beat the drums enough to at least raise the question of whether we "must" mine for coal, so that in the next NYT article about MTR mining someone, at least, is quoted saying, "We’ve got to shut these fuckers down. It’s not worth the damage." At least get the option on the table.