My Kentucky blog friend told me about the local TV station WYMT's coverage of the President's plan to reverse Bush era kowtowing to coal companies: Possible Rule Reversal on Surface Mining. The Administration is working on "rules that would make it more difficult for coal companies to dump waste near steams, reversing a policy put in place by former president George W. Bush." The news story mostly interviews mine owners and managers, but the reporter also talks with an "environmentalist," a local guy who is concerned about Kentucky, not profit at the expense of the land.
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The really interesting part is the comments section at the bottom - where you can read local residents' views on the matter. One big argument for mountaintop removal appears to be that they now have "flat land" to build malls and the like which they didn't have before. But there are a lot of commenters who are pleased. You wonder who are the commenters who really like their homeland destroyed! Managers and owners, maybe, who don't even come from East Kentucky? This person puts it into perspective:
The rule being reversed puts the coal industry back into compliance with the Clean Water Act. The Bush Administration illegally allowed coal companies to flaunt the law and then did a last second rule change to effectively reverse the Clean Water Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by Ronald Reagan. It is based on an earlier act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments, signed into law by Richard Nixon. Neither of these men was exactly a foaming at the mouth environmental radical and both considered these measures the absolute minimum that could be done to preserve the nation's water supply. The "right" of an individual or company to destroy the watershed, or the "right" of a person to have a new pick-up every year and drown in debt in downturn cycles does not supersede the right of the rest of us to have clean drinking water nor does it override the obligation of the federal government to protect the majority of the people against one industry, blinded by greed, which has willfully broken every law ever made affecting environmental quality and workplace safety.
In the same day's news was another coal related story: Hundreds Of Coal Miners Are Laid Off. The notice the men received says the layoffs are temporary and the managers hope to call them back to work when the market improves. This is of course very bad news for people who have families to support. Unfortunately for them, coal companies have a history of laying off union minors and shutting down mines, only to reopen them with new non-Union hires, sometimes brought in from elsewhere. The only deep mines are also being abandoned for the relative ease of strip mining, where only a few employees can move a lot of coal - destroying the landscape at the same time.
You can't help thinking that there's a connection between the two stories. By laying off workers, with the large local impact, those affected will be unhappy with Obama's proposed rule change, even though it is for the greater good of Appalachia to preserve the mountains.
We have to find new jobs for these people in green industries, fast, to show that leaving the old will result in cleaner, better paying jobs in the long run. But right now, life is pretty miserable around the coal fields, for those who have lost the family farm to slag, and to those who have lost dangerous, relatively well-paying jobs as deep mines are closed. For the rest of us, the poor market for coal sounds promising.