With a mounting death toll and a 40-year rap sheet that marks it as our nation’s most urgent health and humanitarian crisis, mountaintop removal mining is hardly a new issue.
Enter Soledad O’Brien, whose CNN special last night, “Battle for Blair Mountain,” arguably reached more Americans during prime time than any other film documentary in the past decade.
O’Brien is no stranger to tragedy. The acclaimed journalist brilliantly handled reports on Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Asia; her special, “The Black Woman & Family,” exposed the devastating and unfair burden of HIV and AIDS.
In a move that has bewildered many affected residents in central Appalachia, O’Brien and her producers decided to tell the story of Blair Mountain and mountaintop removal, an admittedly criminal mining practice that provides less than 5 percent of our national coal production, stripped jobs and gutted the miners’ unions, and left the central Appalachian communities in entrenched poverty and illness, through the eyes and experiences of seemingly embattled strip miners who are afraid of losing their jobs.
Many Appalachian viewers have asked: What about the already displaced coal mining communities afraid of losing their lives?
– Just one of the comments to the article on the Huffington post by Bo Webb:
Dear Soledad: Come Back to West Virginia
My name is Bo Webb. I live in the Coal River Valley in West Virginia directly beneath a 2000 acre mountaintop removal nightmare. Last night as I watched The Battle for Blair Mountain I realized that a dream I had 7 years ago had finally been realized; seeing CNN do a special on mountaintop removal. Having said that, I must tell you that I was left a little numb and disappointed. Although the coal industry may be appreciative of your approach, worker versus environmentalists is not the real story.
As the movement to abolish mountaintop removal continues to grow many Americans are struggling to understand all sides of the issue. They feel a sensitivity for those that work on mountaintop removal strip sites, those that drive the supply trucks and other spin off jobs, while also apprehensive about the people in mountain communities beneath and near these sites. I’ve fought this battle for ten years now and I used to ask myself, is mountaintop removal justifiable? Over the past two years the answer to that question has become quite clear to me as I have watched an acceleration of sickness and cancer in my community.
When we hear the words mountaintop removal, we think; “coal”. But coal is not the issue. Coal is the trap that engages us in debate. The REASON the mountain is being blown up is not the issue. The FACT that the mountain is being blown up is the real issue. For more than ten years now, day after day, six days a week, year after year, nearly six million pounds of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel mix explosives have been detonated (daily to be clear) above Central Appalachian Mountain Communities in eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia. The air we breathe, (the only air we have to breathe) is continually contaminated with this fuel mix residue, silica from pulverized sandstone, and quite possibly heavy metal particulates. The long term health effects of exposure to mountaintop removal have become evident. Cancer rates are accelerating at an alarming rate in the Coal River Valley. It seems just about every week we hear of a neighbor or relative that has contracted cancer. I don’t believe it takes a rocket scientist to connect this tremendous amount of explosive fallout to increased cancer rates in mountain communities near and beneath mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal is not about jobs and it’s not about an economy. There is no justification for an endeavor that causes death to innocent people.
Informed People, Corporate CEO’s, Politicians, and Clergy that accept ethic and moral responsibility as part of their guidance should not support mountaintop removal another day. Turning a blind eye, complacent to remain silent does not render them or anyone else innocent. It actually makes them an accomplice. Politicians like Sen. Joe Manchin talk about “balance”, but balance does not justify allowing people to die so Mr. Dahl may have a job. Mountaintop removal must stop, and it must stop now. Those that have allowed this are in need of a gut check. They have supported, either by trick or innocence, the justification for an industry to reap enormous profit by plundering our mountains in disregard to our people and our health. These profits have allowed the coal industry to finance a public relations machine that has trapped us into an unrealistic debate about “coal.” The reality and the issue are sickness and death.
As Americans and environmentalists we want to save the Appalachian Mountains, but much more important, as a caring people, we must not stand silent as the coal industry operates in a manner that indiscriminately kills our citizens. It is my hope that you will come back to West Virginia as soon as possible and cover the real story; our lives are depending on it.
Respectfully, Bo Webb