A Coal Day In Hell

Many times have I discussed the possibility that we live in a world that is less than sane. Or that I am insane and hence the world merely appears crazy to me. But as time marches on and events unfold, the evidence mounts in favor of yet another premise.

I have always known that evil exists. But I have never wanted to consider it an attribute stemming from a single source or creature, such as a Satan, for example. I have come, however, to see that the actions of some people are inherently evil and result in circumstances that are so wrong, they actually appear insane to any rational observer.

When in school, I studied logic. However, it was a subject that appeared so obvious in premise as to be redundant when reduced to a field of study. In this day and time, logic has obviously become irrelevant. The only thing that really matters is achieving a desired outcome or result. The means of achieving the said goal may well appear illogical, irrational, insane, or even evil. But so few are ever really paying attention to what is actually going on, a clever mind can get away with just about anything.

A good example is the environmental rape of Appalachia. Appalachia is not a country, or a person or a type plant or animal. It is the region in the USA that includes the southern Appalachian Mountains, extending roughly from southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia and parts of Kentucky and Tennessee to northern Georgia.

The environmental rape I am referring to is called "mountaintop removal." It is a modern form of coal mining. Explosives are used to shatter rock formations. Then huge power shovels are used to expose coal deposits. Commonly 400 to 500 feet of mountain peak is removed to uncover a flat, through-the-mountain, coal seam.

The rock and earth that has been removed is then dumped into hollows and ravines, often completely burying forest and streams under tons of waste called "valley fills". Mountains become flattened plains or hills with barren tops.

This modern method is not to be confused with good, old-fashioned "strip mining". Oh no, strip mining was most tame when compared to mountaintop removal. In strip mining, equipment removed veins of coal near mountain tops, but it did so by first digging circular "necklaces" of flat roadways that allowed drilling machines to remove coal from the edge of a seam.

The earth moving monoliths used by the coal industry today include 20-story tall gargantuan mountain maulers that lift and dump steel buckets big enough to hold 80 cubic yards (in other words, big enough to hold about eight sport utility vehicles)!

Thanks to these marvelous modern wonder machines, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported 470 miles of valley fills in West Virginia and 355 miles in Kentucky in 1998.

All of this was done with the blessing of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the military bureaucracy that is supposed to regulate and protect our rivers and streams. Though illegal, according to the Clean Water Act, the Corps granted dredge and fill permits approving hundreds of miles of coal industry waste piles that buried 85 miles of streams in the year 2000 alone!

In May of 2002, Judge Charles H. Haden II ruled that the Corps of Engineers could no longer approve valley fills. This ruling is being appealed by both the Bush administration and the coal industry.

One can understand the coal mining industry not being happy with Judge Haden's ruling, but how can the leader of our nation support environmental rape? This would be illogical, or at least insane; surely not evil.

But siding with the coal industry is understandable since President Bush supports the use of coal. In January of 2002 he visited a coal mine machinery shop in Belle, WV, where he chortled, "We need to use more coal. We've got lots of it.".

With this in mind, it would be logical to assume that the President would make supporting the coal industry a top priority. And since the coal industry depends upon coal miners, the President would naturally want to support coal miners and their safety. Safe, happy miners are essential to the production of more and more coal, aren't they?

Remember the "Quecreek Nine"? They were the miners who captured the eyes and hearts of the nation when they were rescued from the flooded mine in Pennsylvania.

Bush praised the miners and the rescue workers. Before the TV cameras and the press he said, "What took place here in Pennsylvania really represents the best of our country, what I call the spirit of America, the great strength of our nation."

Perhaps I am crazy, but I don't understand. How can the President speak such eloquent words of hope and promise when his administration has done so much to dismantle the safeguards meant to keep coal miners from dying? How can he in good conscience call for increased coal production when the record clearly shows that since taking office in January of 2001 the President has proposed mine safety budget cuts, halted regulatory improvements and reduced enforcement efforts.

Yet the President is in fact calling for increased coal production. It says so right there in his energy plan, right along side the part about hundreds of new coal-fired power plants. In fact this part of his plan is proposed as the key to our national energy security and even a vital part of the war on terrorism.

Some have said that our President has a nice smile and a vibrant countenance. He gives a good speech and he's a good runner too. However he isn't know for having a very deep intellect. He's also got a short attention span, they say. So it could be that he just doesn't know coal mining remains the nations most dangerous occupation. He just might not know this.

We all know the President isn't insane. We know he isn't evil. So he just must not realize the death toll among coal miners has increased each year for the past four years. In 2001 alone 42 workers died in U.S. coal mines. In 2002, 70,000 miners dug a billion tons of coal. Ten years ago, 120,000 miners produced less than a billion tons a year. Productivity among coal miners is therefore up. But this increased productivity is not without it's cost in human lives.

The President must not be aware of this either. He just must not know. Because under President Bush, the Department of Labor, which supervises the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has ceased work on more than a dozen new mine safety regulations. In 2002, President Bush also proposed to cut the MSHA budget and slash the agency's resources for enforcement.

"This year, the number of mine fatalities is poised to be even higher than last year's unacceptable rate," Senator Ted Kennedy said. "These are the tragically predictable consequences of the backlog of necessary mine inspections. This administration has consistently failed to enforce policies that keep miners safe."

But President Bush, happy-go-lucky, good-hearty simpleton that he is, ever looks on the brighter side. New technology and machinery is digging coal much faster and with fewer workers. Production and profits are up; coal industry costs are down; owners and shareholders are fat and happy! This is good news for America!

Too bad the Presidents intellect isn't deep enough to understand that the coal industry production boom he currently fosters and supports is an economic nightmare for most coal mining communities. And it's a good thing he doesn't understand that too. Because otherwise, we'd have to assume he is deliberately perpetuating the dismal conditions that have existed in coal mining for the past 100 years.

That would be a very bad thing. It would also mean that our President is not the very nice man he appears to be. In fact, it would mean he evil.

I can only speak for myself, but it'll be a coal day in hell before I'd ever believe that.

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