January 20, 2011
We finally got around to watching Avatar on Netflix. The story about a corporation mercilessly exploiting mineral resources sure made me glad nothing like that ever happened in Appalachia.
Meanwhile, other mining dramas are unfolding here. First on my list is yesterday's report by MSHA on the causes of the Upper Big Branch mine disaster, which appear to be a lethal mix of methane, failed equipment, excessive coal dust and noncompliance with safety regulations.
Second is the predictable theater that followed in the wake of the EPA's veto of Arch Coal's Spruce Mine mountaintop removal permit. Many state politicians and the coal industry are calling for a rally for coal for today.
As Ken Ward pointed out in Coal Tattoo, the Friends of Coal website actually referred to the event as "a call to arms," although that was taken off the web when word got out.
The use of such obviously incendiary language so soon in the wake of the Arizona massacre seems to be a bit....ill chosen, to say the least.
Even before the Arizona tragedy, quite a few people I know in West Virginia have been concerned that overheated rhetoric is going to lead to violence here sooner or later. I hope that won't happen today.
Meanwhile, here's what I'm pretty sure is the real deal:
1. During the Bush years, the industry could do pretty much whatever it wanted.
2. Those years are over. While the Obama administration has no intention of abolishing coal mining or even mountaintop removal, it does take the law more seriously and will push to reduce the environmental and other impacts.
3. If the permit would be revised to limit the impact, it would probably be approved. This kind of thing has already happened before. And, as Ken Ward noted here, an engineering study by Morgan Worldwide found that an alternative plan would have reduced environmental impacts while still allowing substantial mining to take place.
But, given the choice between throwing a hissy fit and problem solving, the smart money around here still seems to be on hissy fit.
At times like these, I miss the voice and vision of Senator Byrd.