(Bloggers across the nation are making a joint request this Sunday: It is time for President Barack Obama and CEQ chief Nancy Sutley to make their FIRST visit to a mountaintop removal moonscape and coal slurry impoundment and bear witness to the impact of the Obama administration's regulatory strip-mining policies on affected coalfield residents. For other posts, see Deviltower's DailyKos roundup: http://devilstower.dailykos.com/ )
First, let's us praise Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward, whose Coal Tattoo blog has become an indispensable forum for breaking news and debate in the coalfields. You haven't already, bookmark it: http://blogs.wvgazette.com/coaltattoo/
Here's the beyond-the-Beltway truth: With millions of pounds of explosives ripping across the Appalachian mountains every day, and the Office of Surface Mining (OMSRE) still operating without a director, it is almost beyond belief that President Obama, CEQ chief Nancy Sutley and EPA head Lisa Jackson have made no attempt to visit actual mining sites under their jurisdiction.
Only through a firsthand look at the economic and environmental devastation wrought from mountaintop removal's 38-year rap sheet of pollution crimes and human rights violations, will President Obama, Lisa Jackson and Nancy Sutley truly understand three stark realities:
--stricter Obama mining regulations can easily be circumvented;
--as a vanishing carbon sink, the Appalachia coalfields are ground zero in any climate change battle;
--mountaintop removal destroys any chance at a sustainable economy or new initiatives for Green Jobs.
In the summer of 1964, President Lyndon Johnson made a trip to Tom Fletcher's porch in Martin County, Kentucky, to announce the launching of the "War on Poverty."
Forty-five years later, Martin County still ranks as one of the poorest counties in the country, with over 35 percent of the population living under the poverty level, while 67 percent of the coal mining jobs have disappeared due to strip-mining and mechanization in the last two decades.
This summer, President Obama should follow in LBJ's footsteps and journey to Martin County, Kentucky, a poverty-stricken area shamelessly ravaged by strip-mining and mountaintop removal (and the site of an ignored 300-million-gallon coal slurry accident in 2000), and announce his intention to launch a "War for Green Jobs and a Phase Out of Mountaintop Removal Operations."
August 3rd, the anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act that granted federal sanctioning of mountaintop removal in 1977 in a disastrous moment of compromise by liberal Democrats, would be a fine day for a visit.
For history on SMCRA, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/dear-mr-president-declare_b_202321.html
In the meantime, here's my top ten list on what President Obama, Sutley, Jackson and others in his administration would learn from such a fact-finding trip:
1) Stricter Obama Regulations Can Be Circumvented--Just Asked Bo Webb About Getting Your House Blasted Daily by ANFO Explosives, Shelled by Fly Rock and Rained on by Silica Dust and Heavy Metals: While Vietnam vet/businessman Bo Webb received a slight reprieve this spring on the daily blasting above his home in Clay's Branch, West Virginia, he just received notice that the violations noted by federal regulators will be circumvented by a WV state decision. Webb was told on Friday: While operators were ordered to stop blasting in Clay's Branch until they placed all the material, rocks, flyrock, boulders, downed trees and all back on their permitted area, the WV Department of Environmental Protection reviewed solution is to blast down to the next seam of coal, blasting closer to residents so they can get to all the material that is off the permitted area.
So much for stricter regulations from Washington, DC.
Webb wrote President Obama earlier this spring of this state of terror in his community: "As I write this letter, I brace myself for another round of nerve-wracking explosives being detonated above my home in the mountains of West Virginia. Outside my door, pulverized rock dust laden with diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate explosives hovers in the air, along with the residual of heavy metals that once lay dormant underground. The mountain above me, once a thriving forest, has been blasted into a pile of rock and mud rubble. Two years ago, it was covered with rich black top soil and abounded with hardwood trees, rhododendrons, ferns and flowers. The under-story thrived with herbs such as ginseng, black cohosh, yellow root, and many other medicinal plants. Black bears, deer, wild turkey, hawks, owls, and thousands of birds lived here. The mountain contained sparkling streams teeming with aquatic life and fish."
To read the entire letter, see: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/urgent-webb-letter-to-oba_b_168604.html
2) Mountaintop Removal Kills Green Jobs and Clean Energy Project, Just Ask Lorelei Scarbro, a Coal Miner's Widow in Coal River Valley, West Virginia: Facing an impending 6,000 acre mountaintop removal operation bordering her property, coal mining families like Scarbro developed a plan for an industrial wind farm that would create more energy, more tax revenues and provide more sustainable jobs than the destructive mountaintop removal operations on Coal River Mountain, and save their historic communities. See: www.coalriverwind.org
3) Coal Companies Receive A Lot of Welfare, and Martin County, Kentucky, Home of the War on Poverty, Lost 67 Percent of Its Coal Mining Jobs Due to Stripped Down Mountaintop Removal Operations: For a chart on the relationship between mountaintop removal, lost jobs and poverty in Martin County, see: http://www.kftc.org/our-work/canary-project/campaigns/mtr/county-profiles
Earlier this week, a new study found that the Kentucky coal industry is a major recipient of WELFARE: Coal companies in Kentucky take $115 million more from Kentucky's state government annually in services and programs than they contribute in tax revenues.
4) Like Coalfield Parents, President Obama Wouldn't Want to Send His Daughters to the Marsh Fork Elementary School Either: Unlike the Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, children at Marsh Fork school in Sundial, West Virginia, must play in toxic coal dust from a nearby coal silo, as 2.8 billion gallons of coal sludge held back by a precarious earthen dam stare down daily at the playground, as mountaintop removal explosions take place nearby.
5) Union-Busting Out-of-State Coal Companies Have Polarized the Coalfields and Inflamed Violence: With less than 1,000 United Mine workers employed at mountaintop removal sites in West Virginia, the truth is that most mountaintop removal operators are owned and operated by union-busting outside corporations like Massey Energy, a Richmond, VA company that celebrated record profits in 2008, paid millions in penalties for criminal and civil violations, and then slashed its union-busted workforce this spring.
Infamous Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship revels in mountaintop removal conflict and union-busting--and yet, his ruthless operations receive tacit support from the Obama administration.
Here's a clip of a violent Massey supporter attack on this week's nonviolent march with Goldman Prize Winner Judy Bonds from Marsh Fork Elementary School this week:
6) Flooding from Mountaintop Removal Operations Still Rolls Down Like Injustice: Living under a mountaintop removal operation, Goldman Prize winner Maria Gunnoe, in Boone County, West Virginia, has seen seven floods sweep by her home, where the natural mountain valleys and waterways have been destroyed and clear cutting and blasting have led to massive erosion. Here's a clip from one of the floods:
7) Mountaintop Removal Stripmines Black History Month and Appalachian Heritage: Just as our nation has quietly overlooked the Appalachian coal mining origins of Black History Month godfather Carter Woodson, whose coal mining tenure in Raleigh County, West Virginia inspired his work as a historian and moved him to launch Negro History Week in the 1920s, the 38-year nightmare of mountaintop removal mining and its origins of betrayal in the same county of Woodson's mining experience have led to the destruction of the rich Appalachian heritage. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/stripmining-black-history_b_83918.html
8) Mountaintop Removal Operators Are NOT Coal Miners, But Mostly Heavy Equipment Operators (Bulldozer and Truck Drivers) Who Could Easily Be Used on Infrastructure Projects, Waterworks, Highway Projects, Genuine Reclamation and Reforestation Projects, and a Lot of Green Jobs Initiatives and Manufacturing Plants (Building Wind Turbines, Solar Panels).
In fact, every mountaintop removal operator job has taken away 2-3 jobs from underground coal miners.
9) President Obama Might Share a Beer But Not a Glass of Water with the Residents of Prenter, West Virginia: In a community stricken by coal sludge contamination of their wells and watersheds, illnesses including gallbladder disease abound--and yet, despite the overwhelming evidence of coal company negligence, American citizens can still NOT drink their tap or well water and must pay to truck in bottled water for the next two years until a new water system is set up. See: http://www.prenterwaterfund.org/about
10) And When President Obama Returns to DC, Mountaintop Removal Will Come With Him: The joy of President Obama's air-conditioner at the White House and Oval Office requires the devastation of Appalachian mountains and historic communities, where coal stripmined from mountaintop removal sites in Appalachia are trained into the Potomac River power plant, which generates the electricity for Washington, DC.
Bottom line: It is time for the President and his CEQ and EPA administrators to come up to the mountain.
For more information, see: ilovemountains.org