This is a guest post by Bob Kincaid, the legendary Head On radio internet broadcaster and fearless progressive voice in the Appalachian coalfields, who is airing his program live from NetRoots Nation in Las Vegas. One problem, though: Out of all the wonderful and informative panel discussions on the Netroots Nation agenda, Kincaid notes that only four deal with the environment–and none on Big Coal, despite the mounting crisis in the coalfields. And here’s the kicker: NetRoots Nation is generating its big gathering with coal stripmined from Appalachia and around the nation.
As Kincaid writes: “Nevada Power’s Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant burns coal that came from a Virginia mountain that no longer exists, and no longer exists in part because of the myriad playgrounds of ‘Sin City.’”
FEAR AND LOATHING IN APPALACHIA
There is no stranger sense of displacement than for Appalachian people to travel to Las Vegas. My family and I have come to Las Vegas to attend NetRoots Nation, setting up a table to inform those in attendance about the ongoing crime that is mountaintop removal coal extraction.
My family and I left the hills of Appalachia on Tuesday, flying out of Charleston, WV. Viewed from above as we left, the hills that hadn’t yet been destroyed forever by mountaintop removal displayed their resplendent green peaks to the sunrise, as fog still lying in the hollers presented a relief map of all the places where the water that feeds the eastern United States rises and flows, the very beating heart of life east of the Mississippi.
Flying west, we saw in expanding detail from thirty-five thousand feet a future vision of a blasted Appalachia (if the coal companies get their way): places eroded, baked and burned, depleted of all their precious waters. By the time we arrived in this sere desert city, the vision had become apocalyptic. Seeing Las Vegas, supported only by a manmade lake of diminishing quantity, my family and I felt a new birth of determination that mountain top removal coal extraction MUST end, and we’ve come to NetRoots Nation in :Las Vegas to make that point as crystal clear as the waters that once ran through our hollers.
The point that MUST be made is that, as Appalachian hero and Goldman Environmental Prize winner Maria Gunnoe has often said, “we are ALL downstream from mountaintop removal.” My Appalachian family, friends, and neighbors are the most directly affected, with 3.5 million pounds of high explosives used on them daily, their wells poisoned, their health ruined and their communities obliterated.
The damage, however, doesn’t end there: “Downstream” from all the horrors, new and different ones surface: the residents of east Tennessee whose lives were forever altered when TVA’s Kingston coal ash dam (comprised in part of tons of ash from mountaintop removal coal sites) collapsed two years ago, flooding the Tennessee River watershed with toxic, cancer-causing waste; the citizens of Perry County, Alabama (some of the poorest in that state) who had the dubious distinction of having that coal filth dumped by the ton in their county’s landfill; the mother who fears for her asthmatic child because of the coal toxins he’s breathed from air hundreds of miles from Appalachia, but which still bears mountaintop removal’s sickness; the 24,000 Americans all over this country whose lives will END this year because we insist on continuing to burn coal for electricity.
Armed with that knowledge and sense of mission, it comes as a real surprise to us to arrive in this most unsustainable city in the U.S., only to find that there are a paltry four (4) panels at NetRoots Nation devoted to issues touching upon ANY environmental concern. Four. That’s it. Of those four, one has to do with the BP disaster, the months-old oil-fouled twin sister to the decades-long nightmare that victims of surface mining continue to endure.
There’s not a word to be seen about coal on the NetRoots Nation agenda. Nothing. This city, where one building beams an electric light visible from space, is powered in part by coal-fired electricity from the West’s open-cesspit coal mines. Equally as sickening though, Las Vegas’ hospitality economy, its blinking lights and babbling machines, is also tied directly to the mountaintop removal operations at Black Mountain, Virginia. Nevada Power’s Reid Gardner coal-fired power plant burns coal that came from a Virginia mountain that no longer exists, and no longer exists in part because of the myriad playgrounds of “Sin City.”
Let’s talk about “sin.” The sin, as I see it, lies in pretending “the environment” (and the people who live in poisoned ones) isn’t as great an issue for liberal and progressive bloggers as congressional redistricting, online organizing, or becoming a “new media” star.
The very electricity we’ll use at NetRoots Nation will have its roots in lives ended, homes destroyed and an area the size of Delaware eliminated from the face of the earth FOREVER. When it comes to mountaintop removal, what happens in Vegas is most definitely not staying in Vegas.