Featured front page in the New York Times today, April 12, 2011, is an article by Dan Barry on the effects of mountaintop removal mining of coal on communities. I have expressed my opinion on this type of mining operation previously but focused on the environmental effects — removal of “overburden” as it is called by the industry, filling of valleys with unused (waste) material, disruption and pollution of ecosystems and water drainage (See “Stealthy No More” and “Bush’s Stealth Attack: Mountaintop Removal Mining” below). Mr. Barry focuses on one town, one family and what is left of the life they had. It is death, not necessarily of the people themselves, but death nonetheless. Life as they have known it has ended. The others in the community, those who have already moved away, faced that death as well and chose to move on earlier.
You will recognize the corporation involved, Massey Energy, as the owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners were killed on April 5, 2010. Subsequent investigation of the accident that led to these deaths has shown that there were hundreds of safety violations filed in the months and years prior to the accident. See the WVGazette for a good synopsis of “what we know and what we don’t know.” The final investigation report will probably be out in June 2011. You may remember comments at the time by Don Blankenship, CEO. He said a lot. He said a lot more prior to the accident, one of his memos telling employees, “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. – build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” the memo says. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills (npr.org, 4/9/2011).”
Granted, Massey was not wholly to blame for the accident, nor is it wholly to blame for mountaintop mining in general. We all share the blame. Our glut for energy with little emphasis on conservation is selfish. I realize that life as we know it has evolved to include a demand for energy. I do not advocate going without what we now consider necessities (e.g. technology, a computer, for example, I love my computer). What I do advocate is that each individual THINK about what we do and need, start with little things — we’ve all heard the “turn off the light when you leave the room” proposal — well, let’s DO IT. What’s so hard about things like this? Government shares blame: the main government regulator (MSHA) had tools it could have used against Massey and didn’t. Politicians share the blame — Republicans in 2010 blocked a bill that would have improved safety in mines, and that is in addition to their continuing fight against environmental regulations that would protect ecosystems which include not just the air, water, plants and animals, but people. Human beings. Us.
We are all at risk from mountaintop mining because it is the result of and continues from a mindset that minimizes life. What good are our “rights” if we’re not alive to exercise them? Why do we, those of us living right here, right now, have the right to live and future generations do not because of our actions? We exist on an earth that was created with multiple natural systems for the sustaining of life. Those systems can only be strained so far before they break and cannot be repaired. We must repair the mindset and that requires each one of us to make some changes.
Mr. Barry’s article about the effects of mountaintop mining on Lindytown, West Virginia should be a wake up call for us all. The town is gasping its last breath as the last two residents see the end. I realize the earth will not die in the next 5, 10, 50 or perhaps 100 years, but the breaking point is closer than we think, I’m afraid unless we make changes. We cannot wait for someone else to do it, we must do it on our own, one little thing at a time but mainly we must THINK.