Op-Ed

Coal country needs outsiders' protection

Most politicians are like a man who went in a liquor store and asked them for a half-pint of Old Rabbit. ”We got Old Crow,“ said the clerk, ”but we ain't got no Old Rabbit.“

”Well,“ said the man, ”I didn't want to fly, I just wanted to hop around a little bit.“

Most politicians don't want to fly over Eastern Kentucky for the same reasons many victims of cheating don't tail their husbands. Most politicians look down on Eastern Kentucky, but certainly not from a plane. Gov. Steve Beshear has been taken to task for flying, but most of us think that if every single member of his administration were required to fly over every visible mile of coal country, it could turn out to be the best investment of money we ever had, unless of course the members of his administration align themselves anew with the mindless oafs.

The scale of it is what you see from the air. The totality of the destruction of one of the last beautiful places in the country being performed by an industry in death throes itself. In my county, 65,000 acres have been destroyed already, and there is not a single reason all the rest of our acres won't be also.

Those who choose to not just hop around but to really fly and really know are presented with stark personal choices that go to the heart of morality and stewardship of the Earth. They are eating of the apple of knowledge and now must choose right from wrong.

James Still talked about somebody's feet being destined for a certain place. Destiny sounds like a good name for a teenage girl singer, but she denied U.S. Rep. Ben Chandler the Governor's Mansion, which used to be pretty before it was clear-cut by a woman from Texas not used to trees in a yard.

Destiny gave us Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who circled left and do-se-doed and rendezvoused and off you goed to whatever tune came from Bill Caylor, the cunning caller.

The big advance in mountain leveling under Fletcher was an interpretation that allowed one member of a family to sign away the Broad Form Deed Amendment rights to the whole place even though none of the rest of the family would sign.

If Happy Junior Junior had been elected governor, there is no way he could have opposed mountaintop removal. The coal industry simply would not have allowed it. But as a U.S. representative from a district that probably would not hold doing the right thing against him, maybe he could go for the greatness his grandpa always claimed, but narrowly missed. Maybe Ben Chandler can purify the family virtue, by walking the way that is right. Maybe we have found our hero.

For mountaintop removal will not be stopped by mountain people, who have been taught that there are hundreds of years of jobs for them from coal, when there are not. Whatever jobs there are for however long is not enough to justify sin.

People can grow food on undisturbed mountain land, and all they get on strip jobs are deer and elk to eat their gardens. Destroying the ability of an ancient people to make their own food is a sin, and maybe the only one everybody ever born will agree is a sin.

Church people who are not preaching and acting against that sin can go to hell, and if they want to see how a cooler version of it looks ahead of time, look to the hills.

They might even call their legislators and ask them to protect the mountains. To do so, they will have to overcome mountain legislators and hell's lobby.

When Harry Moberly and Don Pasley and all those other state legislators stick their necks out to stop mountaintop renewal, they do so at great risk to their political futures and have nothing to count on except the expectation that voters will reward virtue.

We wait to be surprised by that.

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