Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mountaintop Removal Awareness is Gaining Steam

Imagine my surprise (and satisfaction) when I fired up the Google reader and found the same headline multiple times, from multiple news sources--including Fox News. Mountaintop removal coal mining is finally beginning to make its way into the public consciousness, and the AP has picked up the story. The article acknowledges that MTR is still far from becoming the new "offshore drilling." But the key is that environmental activists have made a great deal of progress:

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) -- Environmental activists gained more momentum this year than in the past decade against the destructive, uniquely Appalachian form of strip mining known as mountaintop removal, though they have yet to mobilize the millions of supporters they want.

The activists have harnessed the power of the Web, social networking and satellite phones. They've chained themselves to heavy equipment, blocked haul roads and climbed trees to stop blasting. They've marched for miles, hung banners and been arrested.

They've even enlisted support from celebrities like actress Darryl Hannah, country singer Kathy Mattea and attorney Robert Kennedy Jr., who is expected to attend a rally Monday at the state Department of Environmental Protection in Charleston.

Pay attention class; THIS is how you build a movement.

Perhaps the most telling anecdote about how much impact the movement has had can be seen in Big Coal's counter-efforts:

The industry fights back by equating support for coal with patriotism, and by portraying opposition to mountaintop removal as opposition to gainful employment.

Virginia-based Massey Energy organized a ''Friends of America'' rally on Labor Day. A ''Faces of Coal'' ad campaign focuses on people whose jobs the industry says are at risk. TV ads tout the ways the industry benefits communities.

''Although the industry has always had challenges,'' Hamilton says, ''I'm not sure they've been quite as dramatic or as threatening as they are today.'' (My emphasis)

That's peachy, isn't it? Poor coal, getting picked on by those mean ol' tree-huggin' pinko commies. Too bad one of the anti-MTR activists quoted in the piece is an ex-Marine living in the shadow of a mining site. In the quote above you see the most egregious of the Rovian tactics adopted by anti-change special interests: if anyone disagrees with you, they hate America. This is exactly how the insurance industry has managed to turn well-meaning Teabaggers against their own economic interests in the health care debate. It's an incredibly cynical line of attack, and it also betrays the hypocrisy of their free-market rhetoric--apparently politicians should never intervene in the free market, unless it's to protect existing industries and wealthy campaign contributors.

And what about that Marine who is now fighting mountaintop removal? He had the most insightful quote of all:

''It's not part of the national conversation yet, but it definitely needs to be because it's an indication of what's wrong with our country -- corporate greed,'' says ex-Marine Bo Webb, whose Naoma home sits below a mountaintop mine and within 10 miles of three coal-waste dams.

Well said. Corporate greed is what wrecked our economy, first by shipping manufacturing jobs overseas and freezing middle-class wages, then by obliterating the stock market and demanding taxpayer bailouts.

I'm always fascinated to think about how "mainstream" political issues get that way. This will certainly be an interesting movement to watch as it gains momentum, and I'll personally do whatever I can to help. Please visit ILoveMountains.org for more info on how to get involved and take action. Let's save our mountains.

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