Why Blair Mountain matters
I'M NOT a West Virginian. I'm not an Appalachian. I've lived in West Virginia for a little over a year, but I'm from New York. Why do I care what happens to a mountain in southern West Virginia?
If you're not an Appalachian and have already been appealed to about saving Blair Mountain--which is threatened by mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining--that might have been your reaction. "It's sad, but there are more pressing matters that need my attention. Best of luck, Appalachia."
I write this appeal not as an insider, but an outsider. Hopefully, I can persuade you otherwise. Perhaps I can relate to you--and you to me--and I can give you insight into why it matters to you. Why it should matter to all of us.
I'll start with coal extraction generally and move to mountaintop removal. Finally, I'll zero in on Blair. I'll give you 10 facts that I hope will change your mind:
10. Coal companies are enormous corporate entities that profit by extracting natural resources from communities, counties and states in which they don't live. Does this sound familiar?
9. Coal, as an energy source, is dirty and inefficient. Coal extraction is barbaric--antiquated even. It's the 21st century. Time for something clean and new.
8. Most people who use electricity are--in one way or another--supporting the exploitation of the people of Appalachia. You are connected to coal in your daily life. This doesn't mean that you should forgo use of electricity or purchase expensive solar panels. It does mean that you have a responsibility to do something, though.
Appalachians are statistically one of the most socio-economically oppressed groups in the country. They are kept that way by out-of-state corporations who exploit Appalachians and their land for profit. Even the political system in the region is undermined by dirty coal money.
7. MTR is exactly what it sounds like--blowing the top off of a mountain. Funny thing about mountains: their tops don't grow back.
6. The combination of all MTR blasts that go on in a week in Appalachia is the equivalent of Hiroshima. All the dust, chemicals and debris has to go somewhere. Where do you think it goes? That's right: down. Right on top of communities--homes, churches, schools. Into lungs, into bodies. The pollution doesn't just hang out around extraction communities, either. It blows with the wind--miles away. Coal trains, too, are open--blowing dust from station to station, from point A to point B.
5. Sometimes, after extracting the coal and washing it, the sludge--called coal slurry--is injected back into the mountain where it leaks out into the soil and into the groundwater, which people rely on for drinking and bathing.
4. If it's not injected back into the ground, the slurry is placed in enormous compounds that hover over communities. These compounds have burst before and can burst again, unleashing hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic, hazardous materials onto communities.
3. MTR requires significantly less employees than underground mining. It kills jobs.
2. Mountaintop removal usually employs private contractors so the coal companies are not liable for injury or death. It goes without saying that these are nonunion operations.
1. Blair Mountain is the historic site of class struggle in the United States. In 1921, 10,000 miners descended on Blair Mountain to fight for their rights. They were gunned down by the coal company thugs and bombed by the U.S. military. Sixteen miners died. It is a symbol of workers' power.
Think about it.
An attack on Blair Mountain isn't just an attack on a pretty landscape. It's an attack on the environment. It's an attack on Appalachian communities. It's an attack on the working class. It's an attack on labor and labor history.
Nic Eaton, from the Internet