Rebecca Park: Why I Cut My Hair

Freshly shorn Rebecca Park with her daughter Beth Ann Bolte. Photo by Andy Park.

A Guest Blog from Charleston, W.Va. resident Rebbeca Park

I have taken a stand against mountaintop removal (MTR). I joined with about a dozen others at the West Virginia State Capitol on Memorial Day and with my mom and my husband Andy watching, I let my daughter Beth Ann buzz my hair down to stubble. As you may imagine, since that moment I have been unable to forget my commitment to this issue! And it has helped me start conversations with complete strangers to hear their thoughts.

Here is an explanation of why I am doing this, and an invitation for you to add your voice to mine (without the loss of your hair).

As a mining method, MTR destroys habitats over thousands of acres as the ridges are clearcut and dynamited. I think of my dad when I see these places and know that he would have grieved for what is destroyed.

Then the rock over the coal seam is pushed into valleys, burying more habitats and disrupting the normal patterns of drainage. Perhaps the worst effect on the people who manage to continue living in the area is the damage to family wells and leaching of heavy metals into their groundwater. And if their narrow valleys flood, the burden of proving that MTR has created or even contributed to the devastation is left to these flood victims.

Residents must also contend with the effects of nearby blasting, heavy dust, heavy equipment on their roads, intimidation if they do not want to sell their property, and the obliteration of their communities. Impoundment ponds (such as the one in the disaster on Buffalo Creek, Logan County and the Martin County KY sludge spill in 2000) are still used to collect the sludge from the washing of the coal, which is not just a nuisance, but is full of poisonous chemicals.

All of this is accomplished with a small percentage of the workforce that would be hired for underground mining. Southern West Virginia does depend on coal for employment, but by arguing that MTR is necessary for those jobs, the industry people are actually lying, because MTR reduces jobs. Drastically.

There are other methods of mining but the industry finds MTR the cheapest method, not just by reducing the labor force, but also because our government under the Bush Administration did not enforce rules and even changed the rules to reducie the coal industry’s responsibilities.

Any industry that ruins and pollutes and then moves on leaves the real costs of their methods to the future, in clean-ups and health care. And in this case, all this devastation is wreaked for maybe 30 more years of cheap air conditioning and lighting locally and cheap energy for industry here and in China and India. Why are we in such a hurry to extract our precious coal and what will become of us in, say 50 years?

This is a liquidation of one of our most important resources, meaning coal becomes cash and guess where the cash goes! Even while they cry about the obstacles to profits, Arch Coal, for instance, raked in $10s of millions in net income in 2011.

There are rules in place, but permits are handled in bits and pieces so that huge projects seem smaller and the total impact is not part of the official discussion. And during the required “hearings” citizens find they are… well simply, not being heard. No matter how well prepared any concerned citizens are, and how respectful they are of the process, there is an attitude that RESIDENTS are the OUTSIDERS to the process, that the industry is right, and objections from the little people are, at most, annoying.

The federal EPA and the state DEP have been pinched between the protective work they need to do and the obvious coal-interests of our elected government–our Congress people, our governor, our legislature. We all know that elections cannot be won anymore with out treasure chests of money, and now entire campaigns can be run for a candidate through super PACs, with unlimited funding from corporations.

The argument to allow mountaintop removal to continue is couched in language like “Obama’s War on Coal,” “Obama’s No Job Zone,” and the stupidly simple alternatives on the bumper stickers “Support coal or sit in the dark.”

More accurately, President Obama has declared a war on pollution. Jobs in mining have increased since the Bush administration. And we CAN insist that coal be mined responsibly, we CAN support pollution control, we CAN support alternative technologies and we CAN conserve electricity. It’s not the either-or light on-lights off situation that the Friends of Coal bumper stickers want to make it.

We have LOTS of choices and alternatives, if we are free to come together and map out the future of the coalfields and determine our energy picture. IF we are listened to. IF we raise our voices instead of being silenced by the money that rents the billboards, buys university athletics, buys our government.

I am for electricity (and for coal mining, though not everyone in this movement is) but I am against mountaintop removal as a method of mining.

Please consider adding your voice to this groundswell of public opinion. Call your representatives in Congress (202-224-3121) and ask them to co-sponsor and support the Clean Water Protection Act, HR 1375. More ideas for speaking up can be found at this really cool website, which is the Alliance for Appalachia website. OVEC is a member of The Alliance.

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