BY JIM HIGHTOWER
Obama spaketh, and it was good: “We have to find more environmentally sound ways of mining coal than simply blowing the tops off mountains,” he proclaimed.
And, yea, in the mountains and down through all the valleys of the ancient land of Appalachia, hearts were filled with joy, for here was a prophet of hope who was signaling that a change was coming – at last, the endtime was at hand for the brutish coal-mining method called “mountaintop removal,” which is an abomination.
Even as the people rejoiced at this good news, coal barons trembled in their temples of black gold. For a decade, these mighty extractors of wealth had been allowed to accumulate unto themselves enormous profits by exploding the tops off the peaks in Appalachia, the oldest mountain range in all the land. With the top third of these awesome, forested mountains reduced to rubble, the barons used giant machines to strip out seams of coal, and then they simply shoved the rubble and toxic coal waste down the mountainsides, burying the valleys and streams below. It was a desecration – but the love of mammon made it the law of the land.
Then, behold, now the prophet became president, so he was in a position to put his words into action.
And act, he did. On May 15, it was announced that Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency had quietly approved 42 of 48 new Appalachian mining permits sought by the coal barons.
Say what? The prophet of change and hope just OK’d more desecration by coal mining profiteers? What in the name of a mysterious God is going on here?
Politics. Politics at its weaseliest. Industry supporters point out that while Obama had expressed his concern about this detestable practice in last year’s presidential race, he had not actually promised to halt it. Cute, huh?
Once he was in office, coal executives, lobbyists and other enthusiasts for bang-and-shove mining went to work on him. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-WV, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a full-throated cheerleader for whatever his state’s coal industry wants, met with the head of the EPA, the chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff.
“In each of these meetings,” says Rahall, “I received assurances. The Obama Administration knows that it cannot turn its back on coal.”
Of course, that’s not the question. There are many ways to mine coal besides blowing up the environment. The question is whether Obama will turn his back on the mountains, the people and his own integrity.
The industry rationalizes its greed in the name of creating jobs for this hard-hit region – but mountaintop removal relies on dynamite and huge machines, not workers. In fact, thousands of mining jobs have been lost as corporations switched to this method. In all of Appalachia, there are only 19,000 jobs connected to every form of surface mining – and the tiniest fraction of those are in mountaintop removal. A much brighter job future is to develop Appalachia’s boundless green-energy potential – a blue-green initiative that’s supposed to be one of Obama’s top priorities.
The good news is that the approval of these 42 permits does not mean the debate is over, even in the White House. Some 200 other applications are pending, involving much larger projects, and it’s known that top Obamans are very divided on allowing any more of this crass destruction.
This is a case where public outrage can make a difference. Obama and team snuck out the 42 permits without even notifying the public, but they won’t be able to ambush us on the other applications. Rather than throwing up our hands in disgust at their first action, now is the time for us to flex some grass-roots political muscle.
To let him know we expect no more weaseling on his pledge to stop “blowing the tops off mountains,” call the White House operator and ask for Nancy Sutley. She heads Obama’s Council on Environmental Quality and needs to hear that We the People give a damn: 202.456.1414.
– Jim Hightower’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer