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Column: Dan Radmacher

BEN GREENE, president of the West Virginia Mining & Reclamation Association, thinks West Virginians complaining about mountaintop removal mining are only looking for a "free ride."

I swear, sometimes these guys make it too easy. They call West Virginia's mountains "worthless piles of dirt." Their counterparts in Kentucky call the eastern Kentucky mountains a "wasteland." They claim they improve water quality by burying streams.

And now Greene tells the Huntington Rotary Club that West Virginians who complain that the blasting associated with mountaintop removal cracks their foundations, causes their wells to go dry and rains rock and dust down on them are nothing but greedy bastards looking for a big court settlement.

"There's a Southern West Virginia mentality that says if you get a free ride, then your neighbor down the road should get a free ride, and his neighbor, and so on," Greene said Monday.

The coalfield residents who have brought suit against regulatory agencies alleging that mountaintop removal mining as currently permitted is illegal are concerned only about a big payoff, not safety or the environment, Greene said.

I thought Ben Greene was smarter than that. These people have had their lives disrupted and their homes mangled. Some have been forced to sell homes they've lived in for decades. They don't deserve to be attacked. And a region that has done so much to provide Greene with a living certainly doesn't deserve to be smeared with such a broad brush.

If Greene's home was suddenly assaulted by a nearby mountaintop removal mine, he might sing a different tune.

But I'm not surprised to hear a coal flack ascribe motives of greed to others. Greene is surrounded by greedy bastards all day. It's no wonder he thinks the world is full of them.

Greene also tried to claim a single study by one company, which downplayed its scientific validity, proves that valley fills actually improve the water quality of streams they bury.

A recent initial report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls that conclusion into question. That report says that valley fills may have widespread impacts on ecosystems, even those well downstream from valley fills.

One unscientific study by an incredibly biased source cannot validate a practice that has buried at least 900 miles of streams in just four states, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service report, which was extremely conservative.

No one knows what such a massive ecological disturbance is doing to water quality, and to related ecosystems. It is insane, not to mention illegal, to allow this to continue on such a massive scale until real studies can determine how much damage is being done.

Southern West Virginia alone has lost at least 470 miles of streams. It is too bad that coal executives aren't forced to calculate the cost of this loss, as well as the disruption to hundreds of residents, before they determine that mountaintop removal is the only economical way for them to mine this coal.

 

Radmacher is the Gazette's editorial page editor.

 


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