Stopping the Desecration of Mountaintop Removal

Obama spaketh, and it was good: "We have to find more
environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops
off mountains," he proclaimed.

And, yea, in the mountains and down through all the valleys of the
ancient land of Appalachia, hearts were filled with joy, for here was a
prophet of hope who was signaling that a change was coming - at last,
the endtime was at hand for the brutish coal-mining method called
"mountaintop removal," which is an abomination.

Even as the people rejoiced at this good news, coal barons trembled
in their temples of black gold. For a decade, these mighty extractors
of wealth had been allowed to accumulate unto themselves enormous
profits by exploding the tops off the peaks in Appalachia, the oldest
mountain range in all the land. With the top third of these awesome,
forested mountains reduced to rubble, the barons used giant machines to
strip out seams of coal, and then they simply shoved the rubble and
toxic coal waste down the mountainsides, burying the valleys and
streams below. It was a desecration - but the love of mammon made it
the law of the land.

Then, behold, now the prophet became president, so he was in a position to put his words into action.

And act, he did. On May 15, it was announced that Barack Obama's
Environmental Protection Agency had quietly approved 42 of 48 new
Appalachian mining permits sought by the coal barons.

Say what? The prophet of change and hope just OK-ed more desecration
by coal mining profiteers? What in the name of a mysterious God is
going on here?

Politics. Politics at its weaseliest. Industry supporters point out
that while Obama had expressed his concern about this detestable
practice in last year's presidential race, he had not actually promised to halt it. Cute, huh?

Once he was in office, coal executives, lobbyists and other
enthusiasts for bang-and-shove mining went to work on him. Rep. Nick
Rahall, D-W.V., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a
full-throated cheerleader for whatever his state's coal industry wants,
met with the head of the EPA, the chairwoman of the White House Council
on Environmental Quality and Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff.

"In each of these meetings," says Rahall, "I received assurances.The Obama administration knows that it cannot turn its back on coal."

Of course, that's not the question. There are many ways to mine coal
besides blowing up the environment. The question is whether Obama will
turn his back on the mountains, the people and his own integrity.

The industry rationalizes its greed in the name of creating jobs for
this hard-hit region - but mountaintop removal relies on dynamite and
huge machines, not workers. In fact, thousands of mining jobs have been
lost as corporations switched to this method. In all of Appalachia,
there are only 19,000 jobs connected to every form of surface mining -
and the tiniest fraction of those are in mountaintop removal. A much
brighter job future is to develop Appalachia's boundless green-energy
potential - a blue-green initiative that's supposed to be one of
Obama's top priorities.

The good news is that the approval of these 42 permits does not mean
the debate is over, even in the White House. Some 200 other
applications are pending, involving much larger projects, and it's
known that top Obamans are very divided on allowing any more of this
crass destruction.

This is a case where public outrage can make a difference. Obama and
team snuck out the 42 permits without even notifying the public, but
they won't be able to ambush us on the other applications. Rather than
throwing up our hands in disgust at their first action, now is the time
for us to flex some grass-roots political muscle.

To let him know we expect no more weaseling on his pledge to stop
"blowing the tops off mountains," call the White House operator and ask
for Nancy Sutley. She heads Obama's Council on Environmental Quality
and needs to hear that We the People give a damn: (202) 456-1414.

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