And Now to ‘Streamline’ King Coal’s Beheading of Appalachia
Published: November 7, 2005, NY Times:

Summary: In four states along Appalachia, they’ve got diggers and dynamite going 24/7 to execute, and this is the official term, “mountaintop removal” on this region. This is in order to get at the low-sulphur coal, but the waste is just being dumped into the hollows and valleys. The longtime resident/activist referred to throughout the article successfully mounted a legal challenge against major coal companies, five years ago. Meanwhile, everyone’s favorite Assclown-Staffed Government did some legal switchery that made King Coal unchallenged. Helps that one-time Deputy Interior Secretary was once, and is now, a lobbyist for the mining industry . . . “Estimates are that by the end of the decade, an area larger than the state of Delaware will have been laid waste by dynamite and bulldozer.” My American-based LJers, how do you deal with this impunity??

Six years ago, Jim Weekley, a watchful retiree in Appalachia, became angry enough to defend his seven-tenths-of-an-acre homestead in West Virginia’s Pigeon Roost Hollow from a gargantuan mining process with a formidable name – mountaintop removal – that tells only half the truth.

The other half is the obliteration of countless streams, forests and hamlets lying below as mountaintops are systematically decapitated with dynamite to leave mesa-like tabletops. Rich low-sulfur coal veins are thereby exposed and mammoth 20-story-tall bulldozers move in to dump millions of tons of slag waste down into mountain hollows like Pigeon Roost. (Erin says: Good God . . .).

“I ran free in this hollow all my life,” explained Mr. Weekley, the lone holdout who refused to sell his place in one of the serial hamlets routinely bought for evacuation and obliteration by mountaintop miners.

The machines operate round the clock across four states, and from the air the earth scars resemble tracts of moonscape peeling nonstop across verdant Appalachia.

Surprisingly, Mr. Weekley’s court challenge – that federal environmental law bars such vast destruction of streams and forests – succeeded well enough to make the industry still known as King Coal tremble on its throne.

Companies ballyhooed “environmental awards” for Potemkin restoration projects. “Lipstick on a corpse” was the apt description of Ken Hechler, a firebrand politician and environmentalist trusted in the community hollows.

Pro-industry officials scrambled to order up election-season studies of mountaintop removal – even while they permitted it to continue.

That was five years ago. Last month, the Bush administration demonstrated just how regal King Coal remains when it issued a long-delayed report on mountaintop removal that callously announced that “these expensive studies” on damages to the countryside have become too “exorbitant” to be continued.

That’s right: the Department of Interior bureaucracy, stacked with key political appointees from the mining industry, would bury the mountaintop abuses and complaints like so much slag under the government’s deficit-bloated budget.

The report amounted to a stunning bait-and-switch in which various worthy proposals to control the size and damages of mountaintop removal, which were present in early drafts, were never dealt with in the final report. Scientific studies confirmed the damage to streams and forests but were attached as addendums, as if they were frivolous afterthoughts.

The hollow dwellers of Appalachia discovered that damage control means something quite different in Washington: the report’s main proposal was to promise companies a “centralizing and streamlining” of current paperwork to make it easier, not more arduous, to strip-mine mountains. That fulfilled a directive of Deputy Interior Secretary Steven Griles, a former mining industry lobbyist, that was made in 2001, before he resigned to go back to lobbying.

In the course of the study, thousands of Appalachian residents pleaded in hearings and petitions that the government bring mountaintop removal under control. Many of them are old-timers from the boom era of underground mining, dismayed that the pastoral hollows of their retirement are being buried. Many hamlets spared condemnation found the plateau-like configuration of the stripped mountains causing torrential drainage shifts and floods dismissed as “acts of God” by mining officials.

“It wasn’t God who went up on our mountain with a dozer to leave it naked,” observed Betty Banks amid the muck in her house in Kentucky’s Chopping Block Hollow.

Estimates are that by the end of the decade, an area larger than the state of Delaware will have been laid waste by dynamite and bulldozer. The Bush administration’s report, issued in the name of environmental impact, will only speed this course.

The Army Corps of Engineers, so busy lately repairing the levee devastation in New Orleans, has been just as busy rubber-stamping permits to mountain strip. Just across the road from Mr. Weekley’s continuing stand against eviction, the Corps recently approved the decapitation of Blair Mountain. This is a historic Appalachian site where thousands of armed union and antiunion forces fought in 1921 in an epic confrontation that saw federal troops intervene with bombs.

With this piece of the past facing burial along with much of the present, the Corps spared 180 acres as a Disneyland-like oasis, but left far more for the dynamiters.

Thus does Appalachian history march on in earth-shaking fashion, with peep-peep punctuation sounds as the giant dozers move back and forth, shaving the mountaintops into the hollows below.