Big Coal Tea Party Extremists Circle Wagons

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CommonDreams.org

Big Coal Tea Party Extremists Circle Wagons

Coalfields Left Behind in Ruins

Now it's Big Coal's turn to pick up the tab for the Tea Party.

Under the guise of "celebrating the American coal miner," an infamous K-Street Big Coal front lobby group has bankrolled the buses, hotels and meals to bring Appalachian coal mining supporters to Washington, DC today. According to their press releases, they will be greeted in the halls of Congress by sycophantic Big Coal-bankrolled politicians, from "million-dollar Big Coal-lobby-money- man" Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) from the Appalachian states.

Today's rally continues the Big Coal Gone Wild episodes of the now debunked Faces of Coal.

In truth, the extremists trolling through the halls of Congress are not concerned about the "American miners." You won't hear anyone defending coal miners in 25 other states today. With a classic divide and conquer strategy, Big Coal lobbyists are fomenting fear and exaggerating potential jobs loss from halting human rights-violating mountaintop removal operations, as outside corporate coal interests in Appalachia circle their wagons in front of our nation's Capitol.

More importantly, Big Coal lobbyists are desperate to keep the media and the general American public from learning that heavily mechanized strip-mining operations, which account for most of our coal today, have wiped out more than 60 percent of the Appalachian coal jobs in the last 25 years--at least 10-15 times more job loss than any potential environmental regulations. By placing a stranglehold on any economic diversity in the coalfields, strip-mining operations have also led to the highest unemployment and poverty rates; a West Virginia University study last year pointed out that "coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs."

In an affront to the massive strip-mining coal operations in Wyoming, which dwarf the Appalachia region now, and the flight of Appalachian coal barons to the Illinois basin, the Tea Party-inspired rally today is about the politics of geography, not the politics of jobs. As West Virginia lobbyist Chris Hamilton foretold in 2007: "The real issue is - where will it come from? West, the Illinois basis, or from some foreign destination..."

As I wrote this summer:

The end of mountaintop removal would affect less than 10 percent of national coal production, and only that in West Virginia, Tennessee, southwestern Virginia, and Kentucky. Most coal comes from stripmining (of which mountaintop removal is an extreme subset). Stripmining takes place in 24 states and on several Native American reservations. The largest strip mine in the eastern states will open later this year in Indiana, with another planned for the pristine Otter Creek Valley in eastern Montana. A day after the EPA announced its mountaintop guidelines, the Bureau of Land Management OK'd the expansion of one of the largest strip mines in the nation, Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine, in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. The company expects the mine to yield a total of 430 million tons of coal--nearly three times West Virginia's annual production.

It gets worse for Hamilton and his Appalachian coal industry--Peabody Energy recently announced it will open a strip-mine in Mongolia that will dwarf even Wyoming.

Why aren't Appalachian coal miners and their Big Coal front groups protesting Peabody Coal for outsourcing their jobs?

Like Tea Partiers, the Big Coal Party today has only one thing on their minds: "To call on lawmakers and administration officials to discontinue efforts to regulate the coal industry," says West Virginia Coal Association Senior Vice President and Mountaintop Mining Coalition Co-Chair Chris Hamilton.

Discontinue regulation?

On the heels of the violation-ridden Upper Big Branch mine disaster in West Virginia, which needlessly took the lives of 29 coal miners, and a black lung disease crisis that needlessly takes the lives of 1,000 coal miners a year, and a health care crisis of poisoned waterways from coal slurry and coal waste, Hamilton wants to end all regulations--for Appalachia.

As Roger Horton, who founded his own group called Citizens for Coal wildly told an NPR-affiliate last year about EPA regulations last year: "In our minds, this is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism. And we're going to let those folks in Washington hear from us soon."

For Big Coal extremists, "state-sponsored terrorism" is now when the EPA attempts to regulate the environmental (and health care crisis) from the daily detonation of millions of pounds of ammonium nitrate fuel oil explosives in historic Appalachian communities and mountain ranges, which have led to massive forced removals of historic communities, deadly fly rock, poisoned waterways and wiped out 500 Appalachian mountains and over one million acres of hardwood forests?

After accepting over $1,100,000 in campaign contributions from dirty energy companies, will Sen. Mitch McConnell discuss the black lung disease crisis today?

And why is Sen. Jim Webb appearing with such an extremist crowd? He wrote in his bestselling book, Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America:

The ever hungry industrialists had discovered that West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia sat atop one huge vein of coal. And so the rape began. The people from the outside showed up with complicated contracts that the small-scale cattle raisers and tobacco farmers could not fully understand, asking for "rights" to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land.

And will US Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV), fighting in a tough re-election, remind the coal miners, as he did last year, that Appalachia only has 20 years left of feasible coal reserves, and or will he campaign for a GI Bill for coal miners, calling for more clean energy investment in manufacturing, training, education, reforestations and long-term and diversified employment for the impoverish coalfield communities?

Back home in the devastated coalfields, we will continue to stand up for coal miners, like my grandfather, and for all coalfield residents--not Big Coal lobbyists.

Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers is the author of The United States of Appalachia, and more recently, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland (The Nation/Basic Books). Follow him on twitter: @JeffRBiggers

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