Jimmy Carter's Next Urgent Mission: Polarized Appalachian Coalfields

Amid a volatile energy market and a lack of green job investments in
the future, the divided Appalachian coalfields have reached a state of
emergency this summer. And yet, the Obama administration remains
entrenched in a regulatory state of denial.

Never has there been such a moral imperative for the personal intervention of the 2002 Nobel Laureate for Peace, Jimmy Carter.

Never has Carter's hands-on determination for economic revival and
reconciliation between divided communities been more needed in the most
polarized part of our country--the devastated coalfields of Appalachia.

If any other country in the world subjected their citizens to a
daily blasting of millions of pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil
explosives--often within 1,000 feet--raining silica dust and heavy
metals on historic settlements, contaminating watersheds and
headwaters, blowing mountains and deciduous hardwood forests to bits,
and resulting in de facto forced removals of American citizens, the
United Nations would be readying to intervene.

If any other federal government made top level decisions on its
national energy and coal mining policy without making a SINGLE visit by
a top level federal official to its ground zero coalfields, and instead
depended on dysfunctional state agencies beholden to outside corporate
mining interests to maintain primacy over mining concerns, the rest of
the world would roll its eyes at such a mockery of health care and
homeland security and participatory democracy.

This is the reality of the Obama administration's recent decision to
"regulate" and not abolish mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia--an
acceptance of human rights and environmental violations that would be
condemned in any other country.

As the actual president who signed the Surface Mining Control and
Reclamation Act into law in 1977 and granted federal sanctioning of
mountaintop removal mining, Jimmy Carter should play a unique
historical role in stopping the egregious strip mining operations that
former Vice President Al Gore has a termed "a crime--and ought to be
treated like a crime."

This is the truth: The negligent state agencies in West Virginia and
Kentucky that still hold sway over regulatory decisions, like the
well-meaning but Beltway-bound Obama administration in Washington, DC,
lack the moral resolve to break the stranglehold of Big Coal in

The refusal by top level officials in the Obama administration to
visit a mountaintop removal site in Appalachia reflects either a
profound denial of the horrific reality of mountaintop removal mining
and a recognition of the ease in which federal environmental
regulations can be circumvented, or a policy of disingenuous regulatory
banter that disregards the economic and environmental security in the

In the end, despite his clean energy and green jobs initiatives for
the rest of the country, President Barack Obama's recent decision to
"regulate" and not abolish mountaintop removal operations will trap
Appalachia in a 20th century muck of economic development.

And this is where Jimmy Carter must use his moral authority to get Obama to get right with history.

In the spring of 1977, President Carter addressed the American
people in a televised speech on his proposed energy policy and his
creation of the Department of Energy: "We must look back in history to
understand our energy problem."

On August 3rd, 1977, surrounded in the White House Rose Garden by
coalfield residents and environmentalists who had waged a ten-year
campaign to abolish strip-mining, President Carter begrudgingly signed
the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act as an act of political
compromise. "In many ways," he told his guests at the signing, "this
has been a disappointing effort." Calling it a "watered down" bill,
Carter added, "I'm not completely satisfied with the legislation. I
would prefer to have a stricter strip mining bill."

"The President's other main objection to the bill," wrote the New
York Times, "is that it allows the mining companies to cut off the tops
of Appalachian mountains to reach entire seams of coal."

Three decades later, President Carter's worst fears have been
realized. And it has not happened by accident, but the blatant
manipulation of federal regulations.

Big Coal has levelled over 500 extraordinary mountains--all of which
would have easily been recognized as national monuments in other states
and countries--and applied a scorched earth policy to an estimated 1.2
million acres of hardwood forests in our nation's carbon sink, while
jamming over 1,300 miles of headwater streams with mining waste.

This failed mining policy of regulation has not only destroyed our
nation's natural heritage; mountaintop removal has ripped out the roots
of the Appalachian culture, and depopulated and left historic mountain
communities in poverty and ruin.

According to the Appalachian Regional Commission charts on poverty,
some of the highest levels of economically distressed communities in
the nation reside in the areas of mountaintop removal.

"I am not here as a public official," Carter said in his Nobel lecture
in 2002, "but as a citizen of a troubled world who finds hope in a
growing consensus that the generally accepted goals of society are
peace, freedom, human rights, environmental quality, the alleviation of
suffering, and the rule of law."

In the name of peace, human rights, environmental quality, the
alleviation of suffering, and the rule of law, coalfield residents
desperately need Carter to make a visit to a mountaintop removal site
and intervene as a special emissary to bring an end to the crime of
mountaintop removal and draw up a roadmap for economic revival through
green jobs and clean energy initiatives.

August 3rd, the anniversary of the Surface Mining Act, would be a good day to announce his first visit.

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