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Blowing in the mountains ...

by a siegel Fri Oct 5th, 2007 at 11:19:23 PM EST

"Almost heaven, West Virginia ..."  An anthem immediately recognizable to millions.  Yet, an anthem under ever mounting threat.   West Virginia, as with much of the world, faces a clear choice between an ever-dirtier fossil fuel path and moving toward a prosperous, climate friendly economy.

While this is a global challenge, in West Virginia the choices are quite stark and, well, quite immediate:

  • Mountaintop removal (MTR)  or

  • Wind farms on the tops of mountain ridges and within valleys

MTR "has been called strip mining on steroids."  MTR is a path for getting at coal veins with the greatest 'efficiency' and cost-effectiveness. (That is, from the perspective of the company and totally ignoring 'external' costs not paid by the company.)  MTR changes the very topography of the land and "should be more accurately named: mountain range removal. "  

That is, within a definition of "cost" that externalizes tremendous costs to others than the mining MTR "annihilates ecosystems, transforming some of the most biologically diverse temperate forests in the world into biologically barren moonscapes." And, of course, in the pursuit of perpetuating a polluting energy system that is the major contributor to CO2 emissions and the poisoning of the planet.

Wind farms, however, seek to use those very mountain tops (and the valleys: in many cases, the best wind is actually within a valley/gap, as the wind rushes down what is, in essence, a funnel) to produce CO2 free energy.  Pursue MTR and you are left not just with a devastated ecosystem that is less able to support future economic activity and not just with ever more coal pollution, but you have a terrain that is less conducive to renewable energy use.

We often hear about how coal mining is critical due to jobs. Well, West Virginia has seen coal-mining jobs fall from 120,000 to 15,000 due to automation. ANd, well, mountaintop removal really is designed quite specifically to take the miner out of the mine. You could say that it does the same thing to the job market that it does to the mountains.

According to Appalachian Voices,

The employment benefits of wind development as compared to coal mining are substantial for nearby communities.  Development of a 229 turbine wind site on Coal River Mountain would directly create between 200 and 250 jobs per year for the first 2 years of construction and would support more than 50 permanent jobs in the area - potentially in perpetuity.  Surface mining would directly create between 50 and 150 jobs per year for about 14 years while the mines were active, after which the land would be unsightly, unstable, and of little use for economic development in the forseeable future.

Clean energy ... Cleaner air ... more jobs ... local revenue ... and less impact on the natural environment ...

At this time, there is a battle under way for defining West Virginia's future.  The Coal River Valley remains relatively pristine in the face of all of the MTR throughout West Virginia.  Traditional fossil-fuel energy community and coal companies look at that pristine terrain and see "opportunity".  (Think, I must say, Once-Ler from Dr Seuss' book The Lorax.)  Yet, others look to this situation and see an opportunity to carve a new future for West Virginia and its citizens.

Rather than extracting coal and leaving behind devastated environment and devastated communities, these people see the opportunities for wind farms that will provide clean energy and a revenue stream for local communities for the indefinite future (both in terms of jobs building/maintaining the wind turbines and from royalties/payments for the generated electricity).

West Virginia, it citizens, its leaders seem to face a clear choice:

  • Quick, 'easy' profits to leave behind a devastated and flattened West Virginia that John Denver would never recognize;

  • An investment for the long-term that will enrich West Virginians, protect the environment (both local and global), and leave behind a terrain that would remain Almost Heaven ...


As per the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment,

On August 24, 2007, the Bush administration proposed repealing another longstanding environmental protection law in order to allow the coal mining industry to engage in "mountaintop removal" mining.  In mountaintop removal mining, coal companies actually blow up entire mountaintops and dump millions of tons of waste into nearby streams, burying them forever.  This parting gift from the administration to its coal industry friends will allow coal companies to continue their assault on the forests, streams and communities of Appalachia.

Well, you can help stop this.

We can all speak to help end this travesty. To help turn the tide on Global Warming, keep John Denver's dream Almost Heaven alive, and help West Virginia (and West Virginians) find a path toward a Prosperous, Climate-Friendly Society.  

It is time to take that keyboard and WRITE YOUR REPRESNTATIVE in support of the Clean Water Protection Act, HR2169.  This is an act that is critical for clean-drinking water for Americans across the nation. It would also help stop mountaintop removal.



<u>Ask yourself</u>:  

Are you doing
your part to


<u>Are you ready</u>
   to do your part?

Your voice can
... and will make a difference.

So ... SPEAK UP ... NOW!!!


Is this a technological or industrial progress for the 21st century - blowing up mountains? What a no-brainer.
by das monde on Sat Oct 6th, 2007 at 02:47:53 AM EST
When options are being looked at, where one clearly has a very negative wider, long term impact than the others, ie the social costs are high, is there any legislation anywhere (not just refering to US here) that would make taking such an option illegal or sanctionable in any way?

Because unless companies are made to estimate and pay the social costs, or are barred from taking an option that has such a negative impact, we're scuppered.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Oct 6th, 2007 at 07:01:46 AM EST
is there any legislation anywhere (not just refering to US here) that would make taking such an option illegal or sanctionable in any way?

It would appear that this is exactly the point of court battles raging in the US (at least) over applicability and enforcement of the "Clean Water Act." It seems clear that the US Army Corps of Engineers, under the control of the Bush administration, are testing the limits of the law by granting companies permits that (according to environmentalists bringing suit) permit mining practices that result in violations of the "Act."

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Oct 6th, 2007 at 08:04:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
MTR has been called "genocide" by some Appalachians.

Appalachia has a long history of being a "third world inside the US," its generally poor and rural population being treated much like a colonised people by mineral extraction companies driven by Northern and urban finance capital.

MTR is highly "efficient" in capitalist terms -- a skeleton crew of a dozen or fewer men can place the explosives and operate the gargantuan (fossil fuel guzzling) equipment.  Labour costs are minimised and that's the name of the game.  The slag piles are simply bulldozed off the site into the valleys, where they clog and poison streams and rivers, destroying many hundreds of thousands of sq mi of watershed.  IIRC some shenanigans have been underway to redefine these slag heaps as "nontoxic landfill debris" or some such in order to weasel around the clean water act.

This is a classic example of the extractive industries' defining an area as a "sacrifice zone," as in "you and your home get to be sacrificed so that other people hundreds or thousands of miles away can (a) wallow in cheap energy and (b) make a killing investing in all the spinoff industries associated with the destruction."

As Wendell Berry said, when you look at the practises of the extractive industrial model -- be it farming, forestry, fishing or the archetypical mining -- how can you distinguish it from warfare?  The devastation, the overkill technomethods, the delusions of godlike power, the utter contempt for life and posterity, are identical.  Industrial capitalism has never been at peace, it has been a constant state of warfare whether overt (geopolitical) or simply quotidian (operational).

Here is one local's blog on the topic.

Refs here to the excellent 2005 Harpers Mag article by Erik Reece which was turned into a full length book Death of a Mountain.

I call attention to the mining company's term for the soil and rock of the mountain -- "overburden."  Compare to "bycatch" and "collateral damage."  All neutral, euphemistic, chilly terms for "whatever does not make us money and therefore must be destroyed to get at the Good Stuff."

In mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining, the targeted land is clear-cut of all trees, which are usually sold to timber companies. Miners then use explosives to blast away the land (aka "overburden," the rock and subsoil that lies above a coal seam), exposing the coal. The overburden is pushed into a nearby valley or hollow, creating a pile below called valley fill. The coal is removed and transported to a processing plant and washed. Millions of gallons of waste from coal processing, called sludge or slurry, are often stored nearby in open pools held back by earthen dams.

These sludge ponds...

As of 2000, there were more than 600 sludge impoundments across the Appalachian coalfields. Chemical analyses of this sludge indicate it contains large amounts of arsenic, mercury, lead, copper, and chromium, among other toxins, which eventually seep into the drinking water supply of nearby communities. Even worse than this seepage, however, is the threat of a dam break. Several dam breaches have occurred, one at Buffalo Creek in West Virginia, which took the lives of 125 people, many of whom were children.

The most recent sludge dam breach was in Martin County, Kentucky, in 2000, which the EPA called the worst environmental disaster in the history of the Southeast. When the sludge dam breached, more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge (about 30 times the amount of oil released in the Exxon Valdez oil spill) poured into tributaries of the Big Sandy River, killing virtually all aquatic life for 70 miles downstream of the spill.

Should also perhaps note that the Tar Sands project in Alberta Canada is not dissimilar:  as in any open pit mining, MTR or flatland, all life is exterminated on the surface and then the topsoil and rock or scree are scraped away over an enormous area to get at the low-grade tar sands beneath -- like flensing a captured whale.  The devastation thus produced -- instant desertification -- spreads like a cancer as the "exploration" and "development" proceed.

If you can view .wmv here is a sat-based tour of the tar sands which raises the very interesting potential of Google Earth to provide citizen oversight into the massive abuse of these "invisible" places.  Of course, this presupposes the honesty of Google Earth imagery, i.e. Google's ability to remain uncorrupted by the black-hole-like density and gravitational/magnetic field of the inconceivable mass of money at the heart of the energy/finance nexus.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Sun Oct 7th, 2007 at 02:31:18 AM EST
The War on Appalachia

"Bomb them back to the Permian-Triassic Transition"...?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Tue Oct 9th, 2007 at 05:06:29 PM EST

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