CNN is airing a special tonight called “The Battle for Blair Mountain.” It’s on the recent protest march trying to save Blair Mtn from mountain top removal mining. I’ve written fairly extensively about Blair Mountain in my dissertation work as well here on the blog. Sadly I was travelling during the protest march in June so I wasn’t able to give it the sort of coverage it deserved. Quite simply, Blair Mountain is one of the most important and under-appreciated historic sites in the United States. The battle in 1921 was a pivotal and stunning episode in labor history in this nation. Worse yet the destruction facing it from MTR means not simply that the site will be damaged, but that it will literally cease to exist. To have a site where over 10,000 miners stood up against the destructive practices of coal mining destroyed by the coal industry’s most destructive practices today would be to disgrace to their memory and sacrifice.
The special will be aired at 8pm eastern and pacific (as near as I can tell). I’m not sure what to expect from the special, but I’m hoping it will serve as a good introduction to The Battle of Blair Mountain for viewers and bring some much needed attention to the struggle to save it from MTR. I’m planning on liveblogging the special or writing about it directly afterwards.
Here’s a video from ilovemountains.org about the march in June:
A few stories regarding the coal industry have caught my eye and, despite my being a few weeks late to the party, I think each deserves more attention:
Investigators apparently have evidence that Massey Energy kept fake safety records for Upper Big Branch prior to the explosion that killed 29 miners in 2010. This comes from the Mine Safety and Health Administration who showed the records to families of the killed miners. Regarding the explosion, the MSHA findings point towards a small methane explosion caused by a spark from a cutting head. That explosion grew exponentially thanks to the unsafe build up of coal dust in the mine. This, of course, goes against Massey’s claim that the explosion was a natural disaster rather than something preventable through safety measures.
It stands to reason that Massey would make this claim. It is, after all, in their interest. Natural disasters through the very label become something unpreventable. They are a fact of life and the loss of life through them in turn becomes inevitable. Certainly this isn’t a new idea and I’m not the first to point out this tactic. Nevertheless, it’s important to state exactly what this rhetoric does in regards to the safety of miners and to the responsibility of Massey and the coal industry as a whole. It is, frankly, the largest cop out possible. Nothing about coal mining is “natural.” You’re digging tunnels deep into mountains to retrieve minerals to burn to produce energy. It is a thoroughly industrialized process and an intervention (for better or worse – though obviously I lean towards worse) of human beings into incredibly dangerous territory. To say that the dangers are natural then suggests that they are unpreventable, exactly what the MSHA’s findings refute.
There’s another side of this tactic and it’s one that the mining industry (or in this case a law firm representing it) has deployed recently as well. (As first reported here and picked up by Mother Jones here) In response to a recent study showing the increased chance of birth defects among populations living near mountaintop removal operations the law firm of Crowell & Moring has stated that the study did not take into account consanguinity. If you’re like me and aren’t familiar with the term consanguinity the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. has done us the favor of finding out: Consanguinity refers to the level of shared ancestry. In other words, the level of inbreeding.
Ward’s post about this has a excellent explanation of Crowell & Moring’s use of the term and it’s well worth a read in its entirety. Once again I want to focus on the rhetoric. There’s a clear insinuation pulling on an old and much refuted stereotype that the residents of the Appalachian coal fields are inbreeding. Hence they become “unnatural” in their behavior and the cause for their own problems. As such, if we accept this line of reasoning, the people suffering birth defects in this region are to be the subject of our collective scorn rather than MTR. This tactic pulls on an old and much refuted stereotype in an underhanded effort to refute a study pointing towards the detrimental effects of the coal industry on the region and its inhabitants.
Again, not a new tactic. Still, it’s imperative to point out these tactics whenever they crop up. The rhetoric is simply too powerful to let slip by unchallenged. They must be called out as the insidious and deceitful tactics that they are.
Elliot D. Woods has an intriguing piece up at the Virginia Quarterly Review about the mineral wealth and mining practices in Afghanistan. The piece is an excellent essay looking at the current situation and the potential of Afghanistan. I think what it misses is the larger ramifications of nearly all mining practices no matter what the social or economic climate of the region being mined. To note that Afghanistan doesn’t meet international safety standards seems to me to fall flat when compared to the mining disasters occurring in far more stable regions. Where the strength lies in Woods’ work is in his overall descriptions of the condition of the industry in Afghanistan and the response to the Pentagon’s report about mineral resources that he cites early in the essay. His piece is well worth a thorough read.