We read that West Virginia strip miners are now boycotting the State of Tennessee in retaliation for Senator Lamar Alexander’s support for new federal legislation that would ban mountain top removal. Some angry miners have cancelled planned vacations at Dollywood. Now do they really want to piss Dolly Parton off? I sure wouldn’t.
All of this got me thinking about how to respond. One the hand, it shows just how much hostility can be visited on someone who has come out against mountain top removal, especially when it’s someone who has been a long-time supporter of the coal industry as the Republican senator from Tennessee.
But clearly, the plan has backfired, as this story has been reported in the New York Times, the Washington Post and many other major news outlets. Most people don’t realize that we still allow strip mining, and that in clear violation of the Federal Clean Water Act companies like Massey Energy routinely blow off the tops of mountains and dump them into the creeks and store the toxic waste and sludge behind dams that would be illegal even for your household garbage. I wonder what Massey Energy’s CEO Don Blankinship, the largest producer of Appalachian coal, thinks about all of this. Usually he prefers to keep a low profile, not wanting to bring any attention to how he gets the coal and how he runs the state of West Virginia with an iron fist.
Some environmentalists have responded by urging tourists to visit Tennessee and show support for the State’s position on banning mountain top removal. I think this is a good idea, but I might even have a better one. How about visiting the coal fields of West Virginia as an eco tourist? What better way to show your support for the mountains is there then to visit them before they are blown up? This would be better than a boycott of West Virginia tourism, and after all, it’s not the tourists who are blowing up the mountains. They could come by Larry Gibbson’s place and see the strip mine that used to be Kayford Mountain. Larry has had thousands of visitors come up and sign his registration book. You could also drop by the Whitesville office of Coal River Mountain Watch and talk to visit Judy Bonds or Lorelei Scarborough or one of the many other local residents who are standing up to Big Coal
I’m serious about this. Once you see mountain top removal up close and personal I’ll guarantee you that you’ll never see West Virginia, electricity or coal in the same way again. I’d even wager that you will do what most people do when confronting this horror for the first time: you shake your fist at those machines that are destroying the future of West Virginia, and any hope of addressing the climate change crisis. Coal state senators are dooming any chance of addressing climate change because the coal industry will never let a bill pass that does not satisfy their insatiable appetite for more coal and bigger profits.
If we want to end the century long rule of coal in Appalachia, we will have to confront the biggest companies in the mountains where they operate. We will need to let the people of West Virginia know that we stand with them in their efforts to save their communities and the world’s oldest and most biologically diverse temperate ecosystem. We need to show the corrupt West Virginia politicians that the whole world is watching them as they ignore the laws of the United States of America and their responsibilities to future generations.
By visiting West Virginia you can not only learn about the history of this forgotten region, you can make some of your own. You can help to create a new future for a region that is threatened with extinction. And you can still hike in the forest, run a wild river and maybe even catch a fish.
What are you waiting for?