For the Conservation Curious

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Mountaintop Mining Redux August 6, 2010

Filed under: Science — newdomino @ 3:58 PM
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Normally I try to stay away from being political, but after seeing the following quote, I felt I had to comment. 

“I think they should name it [mountain top mining] something better,” he says. “The top ends up flatter, but we’re not talking about Mount Everest. We’re talking about these little knobby hills that are everywhere out here. And I’ve seen the reclaimed lands. One of them is 800 acres, with a sports complex on it, elk roaming, covered in grass.” Most people, he continues, “would say the land is of enhanced value, because now you can build on it.”

That came from Rand Paul, a Republican candidate (and tea party favorite) running for a U.S. Senate seat in Kentucky, when asked about mountaintop mining – ie. the process of removing tops of mountains to get at the coal buried beneath.  I have blogged about this horrendous practice before, but a summary of its impacts to the planet include polluted and erosion-choked streams, valleys filled in with rock and sediment and flat grassy plateaus where forested mountains once stood.  Kentucky and West Virginia are hotbeds of this practice, so it’s not all that surprising to hear a Republican from one of said states supporting it.  I will give it that it creates jobs.  No one can deny that (in fact, nearly 18,000 miners work in Kentucky).  But does the short-term benefit of new jobs justify the long-term impacts of the practice? In other words, do the ends justify the means?

Mr. Paul says that these “reclaimed” mountaintops are of “enhanced value because now you can build on it.”  As if the earth’s sole purpose is to hold our parking lots, Sprawl Marts and mega malls?!  Mt. McKinley? It would look a lot nicer with some coffee shops on it.  Mt. Zion National Park? We’d make more money if we converted it to the world’s largest ATV park.  The Everglades? Let’s drain it and build some condos (oh wait, that already happened!).  Do any of those sound ridiculous to you? If so, then you probably don’t want Rand Paul holding any major political position.

To add insult to injury, the miner’s union is actually supporting Paul’s opponent, Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, in part because of Paul’s lax stance of mine regulations – regulations that help save miners’ lives.  Rand Paul thinks the federal government is stepping in too much, but as we’ve seen with the BP oil disaster in Gulf, perhaps it’s more government intervention we need, not less.  Leadership at these big corporations won’t necessarily be good to the earth if no one’s holding a big stick above their heads.