At issue | Various commentaries, editorials on coal mining, saving coal towns
I grew up in the Appalachian region of Southeastern Kentucky and my friends and I spent a lot of time on Black Mountain. As children, we tore up cardboard boxes and slid down the sedge grass on the lower slopes. We drank from cold, mountain springs and swam and fished in the rushing waters of Looney Creek.
As teen-agers, we spent a lot of nights parked on Big Black. We drank beer and sat on car hoods and tried to grow up. We struggled with doubts, argued and engaged in philosophical debates. There was never a better place to be young. It was Huckleberry Finn in the Appalachians. It was James Still's River of Earth. In the shadow of Black Mountain, we were "a borning, a begetting, and a dying."
Now, Old King Coal has decided to re-arrange the landscape. Forget the streams that have nourished the rivers of Kentucky for time beyond imagining. Forget the trees that have stood watch since Daniel Boone walked through the Cumberland Gap. There's money to be made and the most cost-effective way to make it is to blow the mountains apart and scrape up the black gold.
Cost-effectiveness should not be our first consideration. The Appalachians are among the oldest mountains on Earth. They are sacred, the province of the pilgrim, and we should mine the coal in the least intrusive way possible. When we destroy places of the spirit, we erase our collective memory and we lose our ability to appreciate our smallness. God gave us dominion over the Earth and over the plants and animals of the earth. He did not issue mountaintop removal permits.
A lot of good people have worked hard and have so far protected the Kentucky side of Big Black. I invite you to take Highway 119 through Lynch and drive over the mountain to the Virginia side. Take a double dose of your blood pressure medicine before you go. Streams that once roared are silent. Trees that once stood strong are broken. If al-Qaida had done this, every elected official in the country would be screaming for vengeance.
Fortunately, Lt. Gov, Daniel Mongiardo, who, like Gov. Steve Beshear, is an ardent proponent of mountaintop removal, lost his recent bid to represent Kentucky in the U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, the Democratic nominee Attorney General Jack Conway, and the Republican nominee, Rand Paul, are no better. Neither has articulated an environmental vision for the mountains beyond, "Blast, Baby, Blast."
These little men are merely the latest in a long line of altar boys. They genuflect before the king, swear to do his bidding, and scurry away with coal buckets filled with campaign cash.
It's an old story in Kentucky. The supporting cast changes but the title of the play is always the same, "In Kentucky King Coal Gets What King Coal Wants."
Unfortunately, my health no longer permits me to charge up Black Mountain and throttle these sycophants, so I will end with a request. When these men roll into town this fall campaigning for your vote, ask them how they can live with permitting the destruction of an ecosystem that is unique on the earth. Who knows? You might catch one of them on a day when his integrity has dropped by for a visit.