Tag Archives: Mountaintop removal

The Fog of Mining

Ken Ward Jr. has an interesting post regarding the rumors about new strip mining at Blair Mountain. Right now it seems that everything is a bit hazy. The Sierra Club’s press release about the increased activity at Blair can be found here. I’ll be trying to keep up with this one as it develops.

[Update 2/9/12]: Ken Ward Jr. has a statement by an Arch Coal spokeswoman denying that there are any plans to mine Blair Mountain.

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More Responses to CNN’s Battle for Blair Mountain

I’m a bit late on this post, but I do have another chapter of the dissertation drafted. As excuses go, that one isn’t too shabby. I wanted to continue for a little longer on CNN’s “Battle for Blair Mountain” special. Specifically I found two compelling responses online that I wanted to share.

First, Matt Wasson at the Front Porch Blog from Appalachian Voices provides a succinct look at the facts that CNN missed in its special. Wasson’s figures hit on the the issue I was struggling with in my response about the argument CNN puts forward about environmentalism versus jobs in the special. Wasson also hits on a very important issue regarding Bill Raney’s correlation/causation claim:

While Raney is technically correct that these studies are based on “correlation and not causation,” it’s a meaningless distinction for nearly every public health study ever conducted. There is no way to ever prove causation in public health studies, which is why researchers have to use statistics to tease apart trends and find evidence for – but never prove – causation. The peer-review process in science is what protects against misuse and abuse of statistics.

What Wasson points to here was something that troubled me while watching the special, but which I don’t think I did as good a job as I could have articulating why. The quote here articulates what I was trying to get at a bit better.

Wasson’s entire post is well worth a read through for these interested in the special or more importantly the important numbers the special misses.

Second, Joe Atkins provides a compelling take on the special. What I’m particularly drawn to in Atkins’ discussion is his focus on the framing of the special. Atkins here articulates something that I was troubled by in the special’s focus on the Dials. I continue to stand by my original claim that the Dials are in the right for the wrong reasons, but Atkins teases out the problems associated with the reasoning the Dials put forward. Atkins’ call for more passionate reporting rather than “balance” is intriguing and, again, the whole post is well worth a read.

Briefly, some notes for my own work: Atkins also provides two facts that had been nagging me, but that I had not found the opportunity to double check. Arch Coal was the company focused on in “Battle for Blair Mountain” but Massey Energy was also interested in mtr at Blair. This was something that I had vaguely recalled being the case.

I was also pleased to see Atkins point to Diane Sawyer’s “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains” as an example of another special that fails to focus on industrial influence in the region’s poverty. This plays into my own analysis of “A Hidden America” in my dissertation work.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that I came across both of these sources via Ken Ward Jr. at Coal Tatoo.

CNN’s Blair Mountain Special

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:

Natural Disasters, Unnatural People?

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.

Kentucky Rising

A new blog focused on the protest of MTR mining in Kentucky: Kentucky Rising.

Jeff Biggers continues to update about the protest at Huffington Post.

Update 2/13: Biggers blogs on day 3 with video here.

Kentucky Sit In

Important events in Kentucky today as a group of protesters including Wendell Berry have staged a sit in at the Kentucky governor’s office today to draw attention to mountain top removal and clean water policies in that state. A very important issue and deserving of support given the lasting ecological damage caused by these policies and the immediate health concerns for those living in these water sheds. I’ll be trying to post updates on this throughout the day.

After the dramatic events in Egypt today, here’s hoping that we continue to see the power of peaceful protest to instigate change.

Links:

Jeff Biggers at Huffington Post

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (They are supposed to have live video from the sit in though I’m unable to access it. I think this has more to do with my internet connection right now than anything with the KTFC website.)

Live tweeting: @jasonkylehoward and @kftc

Update 1: As Jeff Biggers has reported that the sit in is turning into a sleepover. More updated from Biggers at the Huffington Post link above.

The Last Mountain

This trailer for The Last Mountain, which is playing at Sundance this year, just got on my radar. Many thoughts and I’ll come back to a post on this later, but I wanted to at least put the trailer up. The official site for the film can be found here.

Links for 4/11/10

The New York Times has a long piece on Mine Safety Regulation this morning.

In a tangentially related link, Treehugger has a series of satelite photos of an area of West Virginia that’s undergone Mountain Top Removal Mining.

Blair Mtn Update

The Battle for Blair Mountain


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Originally uploaded by sarian19

As of January 8, 2010, The National Register for the Park Service has de-listed Blair Mountain as a National Historic Site. Blair Mountain in West Virginia was the site of the Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921. This battle was the largest armed uprising in U.S. labor history and involved 10,000 to 15,000 laborers in a struggle with coal company-employed private detectives. The battle was over the unionization of two counties in West Virginia and was more immediately sparked by the murder of Matewan West Virginia’s police chief and union sympathizer, Sid Hatfield. The battle resulted in the calling up of the National Guard and the use of U.S. Army airplanes in the bombardment of U.S. citizens. (More information about the historical importance of Blair Mountain can be found here and here.) Blair Mountain was only added to the National Historic Site list in March 30th 2009. The removal of it from the list is in light of apparent objections by property owners at the site. The property owner complaints appear to have a number of inconsistencies. Activists seeking to preserve the site have noted that two of the property owners listed as having objected are in fact deceased. The removal of Blair Mountain from the list opens it up to the possibility of mountaintop removal mining.

Despite its size, the Battle of Blair Mountain is a largely forgotten conflict. Yet is one of the most important labor struggles in the 20th century if not in U.S. history. The battle serves as an important example of labor struggles, as well as the pattern of the use of force by industrial interests, private detective agencies, and the United States government against labor unions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. To allow the site to be destroyed is to continue a long history of washing away our less flattering history as a nation and it is a disservice to those that died there. It is, in short, criminal.

I will be following this as closely as I can in the coming weeks and posting information here as I find it.

More from Jeff Biggers (this post has a nice sum up of the situation in the latter part of the post), and Front Porch Blog. Also: Friends of Blair Mountain and the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia.

(The picture is of Denise Giaradina’s Storming Heaven, a fictional retelling of the Battle of Blair Mountain.)