Last Friday night, en route to the cankered strip mined ruins of my family's 200-year-old homestead in southern Illinois, I was too stunned by Goldman Prize recipient Maria Gunnoe's story on the phone to adequately follow up in writing.
Only hours after fending off a veritable freak show of Congressional extremists and Big Coal sycophants at a House hearing on mountaintop removal mining, one of our nation's most courageous and decorated coal miner's daughters had been bizarrely accused by congressional lackeys and investigated by Capitol police for "child pornography," simply because she had proposed to show a photo of a child bathing in the toxic water realities that citizens in coal country have lived with daily for half a century.
While I have spent the last couple of years covering the extremist hijinks of Tea Party yahoos in control of Arizona's beleaguered state legislature, the abusive congressional tactics and bottomless scum spewing from the hearing at the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources rank as some of the most blatant acts of "disorderly behavior" in the House of Representative's deserving an investigation for censure and ethic violations.
From your Congressional perch of power, as coal country people from stripmined Appalachia to the heartland to Montana deal daily with unrelenting health care crises of toxic water supplies, cancer, birth defects, black lung disease, strip mining silicosis and fallout, forced relocation and sheer trauma, have you no decency, Congressman Doug Lamborn and Chair Doc Hastings and the rest of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources?
As Tim McDonnell noted in Mother Jones magazine:
The smear tactic against Gunnoe has nothing to do with coal-mining issues, of course -- but while the tactic may seem shocking, it's not difficult to see why Lamborn and his allies would react with such hostility. Lamborn, the Chairman on the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, has long kept close ties to coal -- a billion-dollar industry in his home state -- last year blasting what he called Obama's "war on coal" in a keynote address to the American Coal Council.
If Congress -- especially Democrats like Rep. Edward Markey, one of the only voices of sanity at the hearing -- has any decency, some legal representative will investigate the Committee staff and members for ethics violations and abuse of power.
If West Virginia Congressman Nick Rahall, one-time winner of the Wilderness Society award who declares health care to be one of his main issues, lets this insult of his state's constituency go without a peep, he should resign and let a real champion of coal mining people, like Ken Hechler, take his place.
If any of the Big Green and liberal Obama apologists in Washington, D.C., who seem hell-bent in the election year to air brush the administration's admittedly failed and pathetic regulatory measures as coal production increases, have any decency, they will flood the halls of Congress and demand accountability.
In his last days, Sen. Robert Byrd issued a call for reason and decency and declared: "People are West Virginia's most valuable resource." In an editorial, Byrd didn't mince words about the impact of strip mining:
The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.
For those of us in coal country who have watched our families pay the ultimate price for the regulated destruction of our communities, Maria Gunnoe stands as one of our greatest heroes and resources, and she deserves to be treated in a fitting manner in the halls of Congress.
At the same time, the reckless congressional staff behind this unconscionable act of abuse of power, paid by our tax dollars, must be brought to justice.