On Monday, September 26th, the US House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the community impact of streams being destroyed by surface mining at the Kanawha County Courthouse in Charleston, WV.
The title of that hearing as advertised, was “Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule”. But the title itself has gone largely unreported across the corporate-owned media most likely because it is so blatantly biased and twisted that EarthJustice.org has labeled it “Masterpiece Political Theater”.
Another reason corporate-owned media likely chose to ignore the offensive title is because at that hearing local coal miner’s daughter and community activist Maria Gunnoe scolded the subcommittee members by telling them in no uncertain terms that their title was insulting to those of us whose families have long been suffering and dying from the ravages of Mountain Top Removal (“MTR”).
By their Orwellian title, the partisans running that hearing obviously attempted to juxtapose our need for jobs against our health, and then place it all squarely on Obama. The problem with placing all the blame on Obama is that after President Bush implemented his treacherous rewrite of the original “stream buffer zone rule”, even the pretense of regulations protecting our communities was dropped.
President Reagan originally implemented stream protection regulations back in 1983. They were supposed to have prohibited surface coal mining activities from disturbing areas within 100 feet of streams and protected waters so vital to Appalachian communities, but Gunnoe directly and forcefully testified that Reagans regulations were never enforced.
She did so after a cadre of nine pro-MTR industry panelists regurgitated their unsworn coal industry talking points for over two hours (including coalocrats acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin, along with unscheduled “guests” senator Joe “Manslaughter” Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito), Ms. Gunnoe testified from her own horrific first hand experience that the original stream protections had never been enforced by either state or federal officials, many of whom had just testified and were still in the courtroom. Nonetheless, the subcommittee members never cross-examined them so they apparently let Ms. Gunnoe’s challenge stand.
It was a shocking example of laissez-faire enforcement all the way to the top since everyone there, including those subcommittee members couldn’t help but hear her testimony that rural WV communities near MTR operations had always suffered from unnatural flooding and poisonous water because of unregulated surface mining.
In his written testimony Raleigh County native Bo Webb confirmed that the House hearing was little more than an ideological stunt and an attempt to pander to the powerful surface mine lobby. In it the former Marine and Vietnam veteran points out that underground mines create 52% more jobs than mountaintop removal mines for every ton they produce, a fact that is echoed in Gunnoe’s written submittal.
Each testified powerfully and individually of their own first hand experience of what MTR has done to their own community.
Despite the mainstream media’s attempt to downplay Webb and Gunnoe’s live testimony, the House subcommittee members suddenly and unexpectedly shut their “hearing” down very quickly as the large crowd of locals in the courtroom erupted in riotous support of the two.
Mountain Top Removal Kills Jobs.
In 1950 when the use of surface mining began to grow exponentially, dozer operators and other land moving equipment operators were hired, displacing deep miners. As the early ’80’s underground miners were laid off first by the hundreds and then by the thousands. The above chart illustrates the rate by which much more coal was being extracted with far fewer men, mostly as a result of surface mining. If reverting back to deep mining to extract the coal is the result of enforcing the pre-Bush Stream Buffer Zone regulations, then so be it.
A recent report by the U.S. Department of Labor has revealed that deep mining would only add a cost of one to two dollars per ton over surface mined coal.
On the other hand, since its widespread use began here, the coal-dominated economy of West Virginia has suffered under the cruelty of surface mining. Despite $118 million in coal-mining annual income, West Virginia has the nation’s lowest median household income, worst educational services, worst social assistance, the highest population with disabilities, and nearly a quarter of West Virginia children in poverty. A recent study by West Virginia University found that the “human cost of the Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits”
The coal industry generates a little more than $8 billion a year in economic benefits for the Appalachian region. But, they put the value of premature deaths attributable to the mining industry across the Appalachian coalfields at — by a most conservative estimate — $42 billion.