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I'm an author, historian (Ph.D., WVU), musician, professor, and mountaineer. I have published two books, To Live Again, a classical myth set in contemporary Appalachia, and Defending the Homeland, a collection of essays on radicalism and national security. Welcome to my blog.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Students Speak Out on Mountaintop Removal

Blankenship verses Kennedy

Last Thursday, the CEO of Massey Coal, Don Blankenship, and activist/lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. debated mountaintop removal on the campus of the University of Charleston. It was a requirement in my classes for students to watch the debate as well as a humorous segment from the Colbert Report on mountaintop removal. You can watch Colbert’s six minute segment by clicking on the link below:


Each week, my students are required to write a small essay on current issues. Because I teach at a small college in southern West Virginia, I thought it would be perfect to have them write up a response essay to the Blankenship-Kennedy Debate. Let me be very clear – these students live in the heart of coal country. No one is more affected by mountaintop removal than the people who live in these coal communities. My students are sons and daughters of coal miners. Some of them have even worked in the mines. Suffice it to say, the essays I read were filled with many strong and sincere opinions. I have selected a number of direct quotes from the student essays for this blog. Journalists, scholars, politicians, activists, and capitalists have all spouted their opinions on this controversial topic. Unfortunately, no one ever bothers to ask the people who spend their whole lives around these mines what they think. What follows are their voices, unfiltered and unedited. I hope someone takes the time to listen.

“Before watching the debate I was all for mountaintop removal because I did not realize the impact it had on the environment. I am still not completely against mountaintop removal, but I think the coal operators should be more careful.”

“I can’t even hunt anymore in all the places around where I grew up because of the devastation of forests in the areas around these mines.”

“Having grown up in Boone County, WV, the more I research mountaintop removal the angrier I become. Our culture, which derives from mining coal, is rapidly slipping away. I strongly believe this type of coal mining needs to stop before it completely destroys southern West Virginia’s culture. My grandfather was among the ten thousand men who marched for union rights at the Battle of Blair Mountain. Our society is founded on the beliefs of such men who fought together for union rights. Since Massey has moved into southern West Virginia, the union has weakened. Men work six days a week and twelve hours a day. They make good money, but their family life ultimately suffers. Many are faced with divorce and the mass majority suffer from major health problems. Prescription drug use is at an all time high. Logan and Boone Counties lead the state and West Virginia ranks first in the country for prescription drug use.”

“Our culture’s environment is also a major cause for concern. The machinery used to mine coal is destroying our habitat. Drag lines and triple seven rock trucks are moving earth at a phenomenal rate. In one scoop, the drag line can pick up a football field. This machine runs twenty four hours a day seven days a week. The devastation done to our country because of mountaintop removal can be seen firsthand at NASA.com.”

“Looking from past to present, I see a community that has been blinded by employment. We have made the number one concern jobs while overlooking our culture and environment.”

“The world views West Virginia as a bunch of hillbillies who are having fun blowing up our mountains. They see us a being very destructive and uncaring towards the environment.”

“My Dad is the youngest of 7 children and began working in the mines at a fairly young age. Though there have been some drawbacks in his career – injuries and layoffs – his job in the mines helped him to financially raise me and my four sisters. With the environmentalists standing in the way of the coal industry, his job becomes more at risk every day. While the Colbert Report pokes fun at the situation, others realize its seriousness. If faced with the closing down of mines, every aspect of my life would change. Being in his 50s and lacking a college degree, my father’s financial input would be lacking . . . my family may have to move, which would change our dialect, our quality of life.”

“These blasting sites can damage the property of homes nearby. In fact, it has killed people before. There have been incidents where the boulders would go through the house, hit someone, and kill them.”

“As a grandson of two coal miners and a father that worked in the mining industry for 10 years, I realize that West Virginia’s livelihood depends on coal. The loss of coal operations in West Virginia would be devastating to our economy. Many of the environmentalists are from other states and they do not understand how the coal companies reclaim the land. If you have ever driven back on one of the worksites that they have reclaimed, you can see plant life growing and flourishing.”

“Coal miners understand the risks that come with their jobs. As long as there are willing workers and the benefits outweigh the consequences, coal mining will continue to be West Virginia’s largest industry.”

“Mountaintop removal is ruining our beautiful state.”

“I think that [mountaintop removal in WV] is as popular as it is because it is safer for the miners themselves and the people of southern WV have seen a lot of death in underground mining.”

“To me both sides use methods to misinform and evade truths. Kennedy quoted a lot of people, used colorful language, and emotionalized his answers whereas Blankenship made references to other countries like India and China to avoid talking about issues of this region.”

“I felt that Robert Kennedy came much more prepared for the debate, with real facts and statistics. It was obvious that he feels passionately about stopping surface mining and Blankenship feels passionately abut preserving it. I also felt that Blankenship was a bit disrespectful during the debate. Instead of using more statistics to prove his points as Kennedy did, he tried to act as if everything Kennedy said was dumb and make the audience laugh”

“Even the most extreme environmentalist would be a coal supporter if they went home to a cold, dark house at night.”

“Coal has been a large part of my family and many other families in this area for years and years. I can honestly say I am a friend of coal, but to see the mining industry destroy our mountains like they are is unacceptable. Obviously there are other ways to mine coal, so why don’t we just stick to the basics?”

That's all for now. Cheers.

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