My Turn: Trashing the environment for political points

  • Political signs are posted on a building in Williamson, W.Va., on Nov. 11, 2016. AP file

For the Monitor
Published: 4/9/2017 12:03:09 AM

The executive order signed by president Trump on March 28 is the worst kind of scam, all in the name of keeping campaign promises that were shameless pandering to the very people most in need of real economic opportunity.

The downturn in the coal industry has very little to do with clean energy initiatives: It began years before in response to market forces. Many of which are driven by other “energy independence” initiatives. The false hope given the people of Appalachia is depraved, all in the name of “keeping promises.”

The bottom line: Coal is simply not economically a winner in the energy market any more. The fact is: Coal only produces 8 percent of national power needs. Fracking and projects like the Keystone Pipeline have changed the fossil fuel landscape, likely irrevocably.

One only needs to look at the “boomtown” phenomenon in Northern West Virginia and Southwestern Pennsylvania, due to natural gas fracking, compared to coal’s collapse there to see the handwriting on the wall.

Meanwhile, the renewable energy industry has proven profitable and is generating more jobs than coal can ever hope to recoup.

Hope in the hearts of generations-long mining families given by this cynical executive order will prove forlorn, and their economic suffering will be prolonged. Any coal production stimulated by the executive order will likely be in the West, where production and shipping is so much more cost-effective – not Appalachia.

In return for the few Appalachian jobs actually realized by this executive order, some of the most beautiful land (300 million years old) in the U.S. will be irrevocably lost through “mountaintop removal” mining. This 21st-century strip mining uses heavy machinery and explosives to expose coal seams (pushing millions of tons of contaminated rubble, called overburden, into the valleys) – and as such creates very few jobs, while destroying the living conditions of all people living there.

An area the size of Delaware has already been lost, with very real impact on those unfortunate enough to live near mountaintop removal: mass deforestation, physical destruction and contamination of waterways, and shameful particulate air pollution.

There is overwhelmingly solid evidence of the impact of all coal mining on the environment in the absence of environmental regulation. The proof: the state of the environment in West Virginia in the 1950s (orange and dead rivers, scarred mountains, flooding caused by improperly disposed overburden) compared to the remarkable turnaround seen in the latter half of the 20th century, driven by environmental regulation.

Folks today are fishing in rivers I was forbidden to play in as a child growing up in West Virginia. All is at risk so that the Trump administration can declare “promise kept.”

Some promise. What more is to come?

(John Pearse lives in Concord.)

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