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Will Coal's Appalachian Legacy be Repeated in Developing Nations?

4 min. read

Mountain Top Removal (MTR) is the “nuclear option” of mining, providing the heavily subsidized likes of Massey Energy Company cheap access to the dirtiest fuel on earth.

MTR obliterates streams and wildlife, salts the surrounding lands with dirt and rock, and poisons local communities and their residents. It does all this, while shrinking mining jobs and killing whatever economy coal mining can legitimately create.

One might ask at this point, how is it that something this destructive, this wasteful, can be sanctioned by our government?

In Washington, D.C. Monday morning, hundreds of protestors organized by Appalachia Rising, a grassroots movement dedicated to stopping MTR, gathered to ask this question and demand answers.

I watched from the sidewalk as this group of retired coal miners, Appalachia residents and supporters gathered in their hiking boots and tank tops. They carried signs with names of mountains that should only be found on hiking trail maps. Instead their names are painted in bright paint on cardboard gravestones that read: ‘RIP King Mountain: -2009.’ An Appalachia memorial for mountains gone forever in the name of cheap coal.

This group of brave souls gathered in Freedom Square – right smack in between the White House and the offices of the Environmental Protection Agency on Pennsylvania Avenue.

They cheered, they sang and they marched against something that is so unfathomable and irreparable, it shouldn’t be subsidized, it should be illegal.

“We need to see though the lies of the monied interests,” climate scientist Dr. James Hansen yelled to the crowd before marching to the White House to be arrested, along with dozens of other demonstrators, for his non-violent protest. “As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy sources, we will suffer from the addiction.”

Ah, yes, The Addiction.

Even the most successful fossil fuel magnets understand, and publicly admit, that Americans are addicted to fossil fuels in terrible and profound ways. Ironically, just as this protest was capturing news attention around the country, along comes the latest propaganda line from the dirty energy lobbyists. Now, coal lobbyists are concerned – concerned! – about the world’s poor. They want to address the “Energy Poverty” through more…. Coal.

“I submit that the greatest crisis we confront in the 21st century is not an environmental crisis predicted by computer models, but a human crisis fully within our power to solve,” said Gregory Boyce, chairman of U.S.-based Peabody Energy Corp., in a recent speech at the World Energy Congress

According to Shawn McCarthy of CTV News.com, Mr. Boyce’s language “is being echoed throughout the fossil-fuel industry, in speeches, conventions and editorial board meetings. Executives from coal and oil companies clearly see an opportunity to turn the debate from their own emissions problems to addressing ‘energy poverty.’ In doing so, they're looking to put themselves on the side of the angels, in contrast to demonization from environmental groups.”

Besieged by groups such as Appalachia Rising and a growing public uncertainty about fossil fuels, Big Coal is looking for some breathing room. Just as Big Tobacco pushed its cancer-producing products out to poor and under-educated populations as developed nations began regulating their drug, Big Coal wants to tap the same emerging markets. They want to bring to the world’s poor the long-term consequences of coal are widespread and irrevocable.

Before the developing world buys this disastrous status quo, they should listen to the people of Appalachia.

“It breaks my heart what we’re doing to the land and the people and the future,” said Appalachia Rising protestor Margaret, a poet from Louisville, KY. “I’ve been hopeful for a long time and I thought it would change by now. But other movements take a long time and you don’t see the results as the incremental change take place.”

Incremental change might sound like a plausible plan to those “working” in their EPA and White House offices. But it is an unpardonable defense for the blown up mountains whose remains are dumped in Appalachian valleys, away from public view.

And that’s just as Big Coal wants it.