Massey vs. Mountains

"Government is the biggest risk we have to our way of life." 

Those words were uttered by Don Blankenship, the notorious CEO of Massey Energy -- the nation's fourth-largest coal company and without a doubt the biggest perpetrator of so-called mountaintop removal mining in Appalachia.

Good ole Don reportedly made that comment at a coal conference in West Virginia a few days ago.  Not surprisingly, Mr. Blankenship blames environmental laws for regulating the way he does business -- if only that were true!

As painstakingly depicted in the excellent book, Coal River Mountian, the Massey corporation is the biggest scofflaw when it comes to fouling our lands and water with destructive mining.  This rogue mining company seems hell-bent on leveling the state's "wild, wonderful" mountains as fast as possible for the sake of short-term profit derived from a black rock that generates power.

When it comes to mountains, in the Rockies they ski them; in the Adirondacks they hike them; in the Sierra Nevada's they climb them; and in the Appalachians they flatten them.

It is depressingly evident that King Coal still reigns in places like West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky, as well as exercising undue influence at the national level thanks to the industry's generosity toward political candidates.

The newspaper coverage of Blankenship's comments illuminate other fascinating nuggets from him, including his skewed view that "environmentalism" is to blame for the coal industry's problems.  According to the story, Blankenship also stated that..."[E]nvironmental groups pushing for more regulation need to remember that their environment involves more than trees and endangered species of bats.  Also important to Americans is that they have good homes with electricity, good schools for their children and good jobs...Those aspects of their environment could crumble with the economy, if energy companies don't have the leeway they need to supply energy in a cost-effective way, provide jobs and ultimately contribute to the prosperity of the nation."

Until our nation makes the shift away from dirty, finite, unrenewable resources to readily available and affordable clean, renewable energy sources, coal will continue to supply much of our electricity.  And the process for getting that coal --  strip mining -- will continue to cause massive environmental damage.  But there are laws set up to regulate that mining and to mitigate the impacts to the extent possible.  However, mountaintop removal mining is by far the most destructive energy exploitation imaginable.  There is simply no justification for it -- and no way to remedy it without banning the practice completely.  As miners have told me: They're not against coal mining...they're against that kind of coal mining.

For a glimpse of just how bad mountaintop mining is, the Huffington Post features this excellent piece by Jim DiPeso with Republicans for Environmental Protection.  As Jim writes:

"Nothing could be more destructive of those conservative values than mountaintop removal coal mining. The high explosives and draglines that are gouging an alien topography onto West Virginia and neighboring states also are butchering old ways of life in the mountains."

Also, check out some of the photos I took on my recent visit to West Virginia's coal country -- otherwise known as ground zero.