Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Scourge Of Appalachia


Beth Skabar/Athens News Photographer
Elisa Young, a resident of Racine, Ohio, stands in front of American Electric Power's Gavin power plant, a coal fired facility in Gallia County. Young, a member of the SierraClub's executive committee, is concerned about the impact of the coal industry along the Ohio River on the health of her neighbors and the area environment. Posted by Picasa

I have deceived the Buddha
For seventy-three years;
at the end there remains only this---
What is it? What is it?

---Suio's Death Poem

Let us endeavor to live so that when we come to die, even the undertaker will be sorry.

---Mark Twain

The snow whisk,
sweeping sweeping,
forgets the snow.

---Basho

As if divinely ordained, on each side of the United States run mountain ranges known as the Appalachians and the Rockies. The symmetry of the arrangement is satisfying to an element of the American character. So far as I know there is no section of the Rocky Mountains known as Rockalalia or Rockyland or some such. But over here there's Appalachia. The exact boundaries of the region are vague and open to dispute. The mountains themselves run from Maine to Georgia, but "outsiders" tend to think of Appalachia as the place where Lil Abner and Snuffy Smith live...and the people must be poor, lazy hillbillies like them. Popular songs of the '40s gave them attributes of a-feudin', a-fussin' and a-fightin', and doin' what comes natur'ly.

It's true the people are independent, strong of opinion (and prejudice---often proud of it: witness the hilarity of redneck humor), and wary of the government and regulation. They're quick to judge whether or not someone is an "outsider" and often put up little tests to check you out---like for instance even how you pronounce the word "Appalachia." You may come from an area of Appalachia yourself, as I do, but still be considered an outsider if your family hasn't been in the region you're in now for a couple hundred years. Where I grew up we didn't think of ourselves as Appalachia because there was no mining there, and for better or worse it's the poverty left by mining that constitutes in the American mind what Appalachia is. At first, coal and timber promised a lasting livelihood, but exhaustion of reserves and technological progress quickly changed the prospects of entire communities. There are towns around where I live now that haven't had real job opportunities in 3 generations...mostly since the mines pulled out and moved on.

Now our locally owned newspaper, The Athens News, has begun a 3 part series entitled "Cradle to grave: Tracking coal's journey through Appalachia." Its author is Katie S. Brandt, an Ohio University graduate student, who comes from Vernon Hills, Illinois, north of Chicago. Even though she's probably been a student here for half a dozen years, she still might be considered an outsider. But the fact is she's been shown around by someone whose credentials are impeccable...and that's Elisa Young. Elisa lives at Racine, by the Ohio River, trying to work a farm organically that's been in the family for generations. She's surrounded by electric companies, powered by coal, that supply an astonishing array of American towns and cities. Her dilemma has become typical of people whose families have owned land in Appalachia---and increasingly everywhere in the US---which is somehow in the path of commercial development. Do you sell out or stay and fight?

To stay means Elisa needs to encourage the power companies to change their ways and clean up their act. One approach she has used in this daunting task is to lead tours of the communities along the River and down into coal country as well. Miss Brandt went on such a tour and her writing is a result. Elisa led a tour weekend before last and here is the itinerary, just to give you an idea of what goes on~~~

March 18/19 TCCT Itinerary:

Saturday March 18th
9:00 -11:30 Travel from Meigs County to Sylvester, WV.
11:30 - 2:00 Sylvester Dustbusters/Mary and Pauline's community - potluck lunch and walking tour.
2:00 - 2:30 Drive from Sylvester to Coal River Mountain Watch office in Whitesville.
2:30 - 5:00 Marshfork Elementary/CRMW - background and information on what's being done to protect the children. (CRMW will give an update on Marshfork and campaign to have new school built and other community issues, then drive down to Marshfork for people to see the school - will need to leave from Marshfork by 4:30) Can speak with CRMW and OVEC organizers in the vans on the way to and from the school.)
5:00 - 6:00 Drop organizers back off at Whitesville and head to Charleston.
6:30 Check in at Red Roof/Knights Inn. Can walk to Bob Evans (will reserve space) or other restaurants close by.
Can watch movies being brought and discuss what we've seen, or have the rest of the evening off.

Sunday, March 19th
8:00 - 9:00 Checkout/Breakfast. Will need to leave by 9:00.
9:00 - 10:00 Travel to Kayford Mountain
10:00 - 12:00 Kayford/Larry Gibson MTR tour
12:00 - 12:45 Lunch (to go ? coming through Charleston)
12:45 - 2:00 Travel to Cheshire
2:00 - 5:30 Meet at community center in Cheshire with Paul Stinson and end with community group/potluck
5:30 - 6:00 People back to their cars to travel home.

She sometimes also schedules flyovers of strip mining and mountaintop removal sites because the view from the air is the best way to comprehend what the people who live down there have to experience. Here is Katie Brandt's first article, which I'm posting online in the hopes of reaching more folks outside the area...yeah, outsiders~~~

Cradle to grave: Tracking coal's journey through Appalachia
By Katie Brandt
Athens NEWS Campus Reporter
Monday, March 27th, 2006

The stories flow from them like water down the polluted rivers where they live. But they only have each other to tell them to. Most other people don't want to know or aren't aware that places and problems like this exist.
For the people along the Ohio River and various other streams in West Virginia and southeast Ohio, though, the problems can't be ignored. For decades the windows of their homes have looked onto coal-processing or coal-burning plants that emit blue and brown plumes of smoke from their highest points. The plumes look peaceful, beautiful almost, as they trace the deep reds and pinks of a sunset sky.

That beauty fades at the realization that the blue in the smoke comes from the sulfuric acid and the brown from nitric oxide produced as byproducts from burning coal. The route the coal took to get to the plant is not so pretty either.

Some call it rape. Others call it devastation. But by whatever name, what coal companies are doing to mountains across Appalachia often wreaks havoc on the land and people. In the Appalachian coalfields, the coal industry owns more than half the rights to the coal underneath the land, and in West Virginia's top coal-producing counties, about 75 percent. Since 1981, they've strip-mined more than 500 square miles of the state, and the most efficient process has been through mountaintop removal.

To mine within the mountain, companies use dynamite to blast hundreds of feet, leveling the mountain's peak into layers from which they extract the coal. In early 2000, the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection permitted 27,000 acres for mountaintop removal, whereas throughout the `80s, they allotted only 9,800 acres to the process.

Those who oppose such mining object to more than the aesthetic destruction from the process. When the companies block off valleys and fill them with excess rock and debris, they put the people living at the mountains' feet in danger. In the first half of this decade, valley fills had buried more than 700 miles of streams across West Virginia, and nobody is quite sure how this will affect the area's hydrology -- other than that it will be severe.

The process also clears the mountains of their natural flood barriers. Families like Maria Gunnoe's, who lives in Bob White, W.Va., with her husband and daughters, experience flooding now even during years when rain is scarce.

"In 2001 I flooded three times, and that was a year of a drought," she said. "Floods, no rain. Blue skies, sun out, and I got flooded."

Through flooding in the following years, Gunnoe lost five acres of land, including two access bridges and her septic tank, which washed into the river. The five acres swept down the river and helped cause flooding in the next town, which had to be evacuated as a result.

In case of an emergency, Gunnoe keeps two Rubbermaid bins buried in her backyard with items such as tents and garbage bags. She acknowledged that she'll be trapped if any major disaster occurs because she has lost her access bridges. Her only way to safety would be up the mountain behind her home.

"During past floods, 911 (emergency services) came by and hollered, 'Are you okay?' I hollered back, 'What if I'm not?'" Gunnoe recalled, lifting her hands to her mouth in reenactment. "I'm paying taxes for services I can't even use."

The problems don't end at the mines, though. After the coal is extracted, it goes to power plants, like those of American Electric Power along the Ohio River, that burn it for energy. Burning releases toxic byproducts that aren't closely monitored in some cases.

But what can be done? More than 50 percent of American electricity comes from coal, so to decrease its popularity, people will have to look at their own consumption habits as well as alternative energy options.
"We're all implicated in this," said coal researcher Geoff Buckley, an Ohio University associate professor of geography. "Most people don't like to know where their power comes from, but when we look at the impacts of mining, we see our own values and priorities on the land."

The mountain keeper:
From peaks to plateaus

As rays of sunlight barely visible behind thick gray clouds begin to slant lower in the sky, Larry Gibson, a compact man in his mid-50s, leans against his white pickup truck. Colorful anti-coal and pro-mountain bumper stickers coat the truck's back, and Gibson watches his large, black dog, called Dog, sniff around the lot's gravel perimeter.

Gibson is parked in the campground of houses and trailers that he and some of his family's heirs formed on Kayford Mountain, W.Va., about 45 minutes southeast of Charleston. He is waiting for the tour group he has agreed to take up the mountain. They want to see for themselves how a landscape thousands of years old has changed drastically within little more than a decade.

Massey Energy Company, the West Virginia coal empire that has fast become Gibson's arch-enemy, has found a fortune in these mountains. To obtain it, the company has acquired property rights to a handful of the mountains around Gibson's. They have systematically used a concoction of ammonium nitrate and diesel fuel to blow the tops off of each one in a 20-year-old practice of coal extraction called mountaintop removal mining. Unfortunately, scientists estimate that no more than 20 years' worth of coal remains within the mountain walls, rendering the practice that forever changes the face of these mountains useless within two decades.

And that's why Gibson has spent the last few years giving tours and speeches in attempts to draw attention to the relatively voiceless and forgotten region.

His family has lived on these mountains for more than 200 years, and now his 50 acres of land (including his family's cemetery) and the valuable coal rights have been valued at $450 million. He won't give it up without a fight, though, and he said he has seen death threats, shooting attempts and the hanging of one of his dogs -- all because he won't allow Massey access to the 40 seams of coal beneath his property.

On this day, Gibson watches the dark minivan winding up the gravel path toward him. Finally, they've arrived. "Sign this here. I want to keep track," he said, handing over a spiral-bound notebook. Across its pages, people have scribbled their signatures and hometowns. Some have come from as far away as the Middle East and South America.

Today, Gibson will take this small group of Sierra Club members and students from West Virginia and southeast Ohio to the top of Kayford Mountain, 45 minutes outside Charleston. They climb into his truck bed and struggle to keep upright as Gibson begins the steep drive up the mountain. Before reaching the top, though, he stops beside a cemetery, which clings to its survival.

The grass is yellowed here from two months of winter, and the land pockmarked from the instability that constant blasting on surrounding mountains brings. As the echoes of each blast reverberate through the ground, showers of rock and black shale fall on the cemetery. It's a two-sided assault on the land -- from above and below.

Gibson shakes his head as he passes over the uneven ground. Tilting gravestones mark the heads of some graves, and before many the ground sinks into itself as if sighing. Leaning over, Gibson points out a quarter-sized knick in one of the gravestones, attributing it to debris from the blasts. "They send people over here to pick all this up," he said. Sometimes, he said he believes the workers take the damaged gravestones too, which debris tends to knock over.

Perhaps being in the cemetery brings Gibson's mind to the recent mining tragedies in West Virginia that killed more than a dozen miners. "We've been sacrificing our people for years so others can have cheap energy," Gibson said with regard to the thousands of other Appalachians who also have died mining or from mining-related health problems through the years. "This needs to stop." He speaks slowly, his voice rising in anger cultivated from fighting large corporations and government officials who hear only what big money, which Gibson doesn't have, lets them hear.

Back in the truck, the group continues up the mountain. The few in the back bounce with each stone or rut the truck passes over. They laugh as they attempt to keep the eager Dog from crushing their laps as he repeatedly loses his balance.

From where Dog stands with his front legs lifted onto a spare tire, he can look out over the mountain. Through branches, glimpses of mountains once covered in trees now stare back. They've gone bald and flattened; the only thing covering their brownish dust now is mining equipment, such as the "continuous miner" that pulls coal from the mountain's seams and loads it instantly.

While some argue that mining companies will provide jobs for the region, coal researcher Buckley has statistics he said show otherwise.

"There's been a tremendous drop in the amount of employment," he said.

To illustrate, he pulls out charts that show coal production in Ohio on a strong rise from 1950 until its peak in 1970. During that same time, however, employment dropped 83 percent, due in large part to new machinery -- like the continuous miner that can be operated via remote control -- that makes human workers obsolete.

Elisa Young, a volunteer with the Sierra Club from Racine, Ohio, also finds fault with the economic-prosperity argument. "People come to this area to see the mountains," she said, adding that tourism is a prime example of other possible sources of income. Yet with this form of coal removal, the companies behind it are destroying that possibility.

Under the national Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), when coal companies take over an area, they are responsible for restoring the land once their work is complete. However, their practices often leave the ground so acidic that it can't support tree growth beyond three feet, and too unstable to sustain any development. Young cites a prison built on the flattened land of a mountaintop-removal site that earned the nickname "Sink-Sink" after its floors and walls sank into the ground.

Each mountain blast leaves a permanent scar on the land, and it's happening across West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. From the top of Gibson's mountain, the group can see only a piece of the full destruction as they look down upon the other mountains. To fully grasp it, they'd have to see the scene from the sky.

When Gibson speaks again, his words are clipped and to the point, rehearsed almost. He tells them that this mountain used to be the lowest of those around it. All that's left are brown plateaus that leave open vistas to the land that stretches out around them.

"I don't want to be rude," Gibson said, looking directly at each of them, "but if you're going to turn around and walk away from here and do nothing about this, not tell anybody what you've seen here, then I wish you had never come."

http://www.athensnews.com/index.php?action=viewarticle§ion=news&story_id=23878

11 comments:

jazzolog said...

Katie Brandt's series continues~~~

The warriors: Deadly Dust
By Katie Brandt
Athens NEWS Campus Reporter
Thursday, March 30th, 2006

Pauline Canterberry's life used to revolve around mining, and it still does today, just in a different sense. A woman well past retirement age, Canterberry lives in Sylvester, W.Va., not far from Kayford Mountain. Her smile comes easily during most conversations, but when coal is the topic at hand, she grows serious.

And how can she not? Canterberry lost two of the most important men in her life to mining - her father and her husband. Now, the air and water where she lives have become so polluted from coal dust and waste, she's fighting for her own survival. In the past few years, she has found herself up against the Massey Coal Company and West Virginia's Division of Environmental Protection.

"We're old. We should be enjoying life," said Mary Miller, a close friend and neighbor of Canterberry.

"We should be on our rocking chairs," Canterberry added.

Instead, coal dust coats those rockers, let loose from the town's processing facility. As a young child and then woman, Canterberry saw the necessary-evil relationship coal held with her community. Her father worked in the mines to support their family, and her husband followed suit.

She remembers waiting outside the mines each day to see "who would come out dead. That used to be our lives," she said.

Then one day, when Canterberry caught wind of a disaster at the mine, she rushed to the scene to see if her then-boyfriend was OK. Canterberry waited on edge, and when she saw him walk out without any major injuries, she broke into tears of relief. He proposed at that moment, telling her, "Now I know you really love me."

Fifty-seven years later, Canterberry's husband would die of pneumoconiosis, better known as black-lung disease. Decades of inhaling coal dust in the mines ate away at his respiratory health, and he struggled to breathe for 10 years after his diagnosis.

"Mining people have always been in some respect slaves," Canterberry said. "They're quiet because they think they can't speak out. But they're the best people you'll find anywhere in the world."

Not all are quiet, though, and not all consider themselves slaves. Larry Vucelich, a recently retired miner and Ohio native, now serves as a representative for the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) in Bridgeport, Ohio, across the Ohio River from Wheeling, W.Va. He went from representing 500 people while working in the mines to 5,000 as a UMWA representative. His adamant support of coal is multi-layered.

On a personal level, Vucelich said that the 34 years he spent as an underground miner with the Ohio Valley Coal Company "improved my life and my family's ten-fold." The mining job he landed after his 1969 graduation enabled him to purchase a home and raise his children in comfortable conditions. Then, the coal industry was "booming" with "good pay and good benefits" for miners.

Vucelich said he also considers coal a way for the United States to lessen its reliance on foreign oil. "This is the best country in the world," he said. "We need coal to keep us strong and independent."

But most people who pit themselves against coal use believe there are alternative ways to do just that, such as relying instead on energy from solar and wind power. Vucelich, though, said he sees alternative energy, or green power, as a concept "way down the road." Besides, he added, "It (coal) was put there for us to use."

Like Canterberry and Miller, he said he considers miners a "unique breed. They risk their lives day in and day out."

But it's not only the miners who risk their lives, according to the two women. Canterberry and Miller share their backyards with a coal-processing plant that emits the very coal dust that killed Canterberry's husband.

"Nine out of 10 people around here die of cancer," she said. "You go into the schools, and the principal's desk is lined with inhalers for the students."

In West Virginia, no laws control the amount of coal dust companies can put into the air. The closest chance Canterberry and Miller have for protection is a law that states nothing can leave one's property that could damage others.

But apparently Massey isn't keeping to that rule. Eventually, Canterberry and Miller decided they had seen enough. "If you get between the sunshine and dust, it's like a kaleidoscope," Canterberry said. "It almost blocked the sun and they expected us to live in it. That's when Mary and I went on a warpath."

A few years ago, the two women began videotaping and photographing the coal dust in the air and on cars and lawns in the town. Their inventory of footage includes records of dust so thick, they could see it falling like a dark veil on cars parked next to a schoolyard full of children playing. They wrote letters to West Virginia's Division of Environmental Protection (DEP), trying to persuade them to put stricter regulations on the amount of pollutants the plant could let into the air. "But it was like we weren't even here," Canterberry said.

During that time, Miller's home dropped in value from $145,000 to $12,000. The women continued to videotape their surroundings, night and day. They even wiped their porch furniture with white towels and stored them in Ziploc bags. They wanted to be able to show lawyers, judges and anyone who would look that the dust that turned those white cloths black was also entering their lungs.

In response, the DEP and Massey representatives asked Canterberry what she was doing out at all hours of the night videotaping. "I may be an old lady, but I'm not stupid," she said.

Canterberry wasn't about to let a lack of power and money keep her from fighting for what she believes are her rights.

"It's really unfortunate that citizens of the United States have to fight so hard for their health, and, like with Larry (Gibson), to keep their heritage," said Sarah Watling, a graduate student at Ohio University. She had joined Gibson on the tour of his mountain about 45 minutes southeast of Charleston. (Gibson's guided tours of Kayford Mountain, to illustrate the impacts of mountaintop mining, were explored in Part One of this series.)

Driving through the valley towns around Sylvester, Watling shook her head in disbelief. She had recently returned from Ecuador with the Peace Corps, and said she couldn't believe that conditions so similar to what she had seen in the third-world country existed in the United States.

She was also shocked to see Marsh Fork Elementary School, a brick building with a jungle gym and swings in its front yard, sitting at the foot of a giant, off-white, cement water-tower type building. This structure holds coal and lets out substantial coal dust. Probably not coincidentally, about 90 percent of the children in the school are asthmatic.

"It's not excusable, but it's understandable in Ecuador due to the conditions there, the social infrastructure," Watling said after noting the usualness of such sights in that country. She didn't expect to see the same situation in one of the world's wealthiest countries, however.

For Canterberry and Miller, the situation has been a reality for as long as they can remember. When their lawsuit against Massey finally did reach the courts, they didn't end up feeling much more than insulted.

Canterberry said that in the coal company lawyer's closing statements, he "called everyone in Sylvester inbreeds and Mary and I 'glory seekers.' He said we couldn't tolerate it because we were old."

Miller was outraged when the same lawyer tried to shake her husband's hand after the trial because he had fought in World War II. Before turning their backs on the man, Miller looked at him and asked, "Isn't it a shame that he fought for this country and now he has to fight for his own home?"

http://www.athensnews.com/index.php?action=viewarticle§ion=news&story_id=23901

jazzolog said...

The revolutionary: The price of power
By Katie Brandt
Athens NEWS Contributor
Thursday, April 6th, 2006

Editor's note: This is the final installment in a three-part series about the effects of coal mining in this region.

Elisa Young's bathroom is full of oils and books -- everything one would need either to be healthy or to learn how to be healthy. Her kitchen is much the same, stocked with organic fruits and vegetables that she buys from an independent seller. And while she does all she can to keep healthy inside, it's what's just outside her window that keeps Young's health uncertain.

It's a quiet, gray Sunday morning in Racine, Ohio, a Meigs County town set minutes away from the Ohio River near the West Virginia border. From Meigs, four power plants are visible, but none lies within the county.

That could change. Recently, county officials have begun talking about two -- and maybe even three -- new coal-fired power plants in the county.

"They're modern, clean-coal power plants," confirmed Perry Varnadoe of the Meigs County Chamber of Commerce. "They're not like the ones built 50 years ago." Varnadoe was appointed the governor's regional economic development representative for southeast Ohio in 2004.

The plants, he said, would bring 2,000 to 3,000 construction jobs and 200 to 250 jobs within the plants once they went on-line. "They'll be a lifeline for the Southern School District," Varnadoe added, referring to a Meigs County district. Because none of the other plants are within Meigs County, the county is unable to collect property tax from them. The proposed plants, however, would pay Meigs County property taxes, and the county would benefit from the resulting increases in sales taxes, as well as all the spin-off economic activities with vendors, consumer goods, etc.

"Generally the community is very enthusiastic about it from the comments I've heard," Varnadoe said.

Young, however, is not pleased. She said that opening the plants could lead to the reopening of some of the old Southern Ohio Coal mines in Meigs and Vinton counties, which probably would contaminate the clean spring on her land with acid-mine drainage.

For the hundreds of former coal-miners who live in southeast Ohio, and are now either unemployed or making less money doing other tasks, the upside to a rejuvenated coal industry in this region likely outweighs the negatives.

Few cars travel down the winding county road that twists up through the woods and around a curve past Young's farm. The only noise comes from Chavez -- the large rooster with dark silk feathers shooting from his tail -- as he patrols the yard.

Young explained that friends who brought him to her had named him King Robert, but the name didn't fit. Partially on account of the same fiery attitude that got him kicked out of the chicken coop, he became known as Chavez, after the renegade leftist Venezuelan president.

However, Chavez isn't the only rebel on the farm. Young has spent the last four years "trying to learn the system," because she wants to change it.

Her farm, which has housed her family for seven generations, overlooks the Mountaineer and Phillip Sporne power plants, neither of which are located in Meigs County. Two smoke stacks, reminiscent of those found at nuclear plants, reach into the sky, emitting thick plumes of smoke. But this smoke is relatively safe, made up of steam from the plant. It's what the plant, and others in Ohio and West Virginia, potentially let into the river that scares Young.

Next month, now that scientists have found that C-8 contaminates her district's water supply, she's being tested for the man-made chemical. C-8, or ammonium perfluorooctanate, has caused cancer and liver damage when tested on animals and has possible adverse effects on the endocrine system, according to the Little Hocking Area C-8 Study.

In burning the coal, the plants use and produce heavy metals such as mercury and lead. When the mercury escapes into the environment, it turns into methylmercury, a chemical highly toxic in mammals, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior's Geological Survey. People sometimes joke about not eating fish from a certain river or drinking the water, but the reality is that many Appalachian rivers do contain high amounts of methylmercury. Its greatest adverse effects occur in developing organisms, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, i.e. children, who tend to slow in development if exposed to high levels of the toxin.

The mercury levels have gotten so high, in fact, that in early January the Ohio EPA released a fish-consumption advisory. "This year, Ohio EPA has added 12 locations to the list of places where fish should be eaten no more frequently than once a month due to mercury," according to the department's press release. Among the locations are Dow Lake and the Hocking River, which (along with the Ohio River) also have elevated levels of PCB, according to the press release.

The water that reaches Young's farm is contaminated as well. She recalls a time when the farm was self-sustaining. Her grandparents lived on it then, and Young would visit during the summers from northern Ohio. "I think that's a piece of why the environmental and health issues stand out to me as a problem, because I didn't grow up here," Young said.

After her grandmother died in 2000, Young took up residence on the land. When she did, she said her energy level dropped drastically, and she noticed that many of her neighbors were dying of cancer. She rattles off a list of names and points in all directions toward their homes. That was when Young first began looking into what the power plants in her area were releasing into the air and water.

Young's farm reflects her current state of health. White paint peels off its sides, and it sits in virtual abandonment, with only a chicken coop and a few stray cats in the yard.

People ask her why she doesn't leave. If she wants to create a sustainable living environment, why not move elsewhere, where the dream could be a reality? Young shakes her head; for her, "no other place has this generational value."

When Young speaks about the farm, her voice grows high and shaky, and tears gather at the corners of her eyes. She questions spending the money to fix it up if she could lose the land to the coal industry or lose her own health to a disease such as cancer, contracted from living so close to a power plant.

IN 2002, AMERICAN ELECTRIC Power bought the town of Cheshire, Ohio, not even a 10-minute drive from Young's farm, for $20 million. House values had seen a 90 percent drop in the town, and the people reported burning eyes, sore throats, headaches and white burns on their lips and tongues after blue plumes of smoke from the plant hung over the town. When the residents signed the agreement with AEP, they signed away their rights to sue the company over any personal or property damages sustained from the emissions.

The town today is virtually empty, with sidewalks leading to wide squares of matted grass where homes once stood. On Sundays, most of the cars in the town take up spots in the church parking lot.

People in Cheshire weren't the only ones who left. Young speaks of a Native-American friend whose people had lived on the river for hundreds of years. She left too, though, not wanting to raise her children amid the contamination.

For now, Young remains on her farm. She spends her days researching other power plant injustices and trying to learn the bureaucratic ropes of agencies that should be looking out for her. She said people always call her an environmentalist, but she thinks it's simpler than that. "I just want clean air and clean water. Is that asking too much?"

http://athensnews.com/index.php?action=viewarticle§ion=news&story_id=24086

jazzolog said...

If you subscribe to TruthOut and/or are Appalachian by heritage or new address, you may have seen or be interested in these 2 news items referenced. The first is an article by Associated Press writer Samira Jafari about the followup to the Kentucky Darby mine explosion that killed 5 workers.
----------------------
Survivors of miners killed in a Kentucky explosion met privately with two congressmen Friday and expressed outrage that federal regulators kept an inspector from being asked some questions about the mine's status before the blast.

Though a panel of federal and state investigators, miner representatives and company officials were allowed to question mine company employees, only federal investigators from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration were allowed to question Stanley Sturgill. Sturgill is the MSHA inspector who checked out Kentucky Darby Mine No. 1 the week before five miners died there May 20...

Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., and Ben Chandler, D-Ky., said after the meeting with victims' family members in Lexington that new mine-safety legislation approved last month doesn't go far enough.

"There's a massive failure in Washington," said Miller, the ranking Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20060715/ap_on_re_us/democrats_mine_safety_1

The other entry is an interview at Grist with Jeff Goodell, whose book Big Coal is just out.
--------------------------
In your book, you mention Americans' ignorance about where electricity comes from.

Everyone I talk to can tell me the price of a gallon of gas to the tenth of a cent, but I've not found a person -- except for one guy at a reading last night who had a solar panel -- who could tell me what they pay for a kilowatt of electricity. We're completely divorced from the price...

How do coal companies retain such a grip on the very people who have suffered most at their hands?

It goes to the very heart of the development of Appalachia. The coal barons came in and bought up the mineral rights for nothing in the 1850s and 1860s. There's never been any other economic model there. Coal's been big daddy there for a long, long time.

Much has been written about the early days, in the 19th and early 20th century, with company towns and the almost indentured servitude the coal industry required. They worked explicitly to keep other industries out in the early days of the coal industry. Although the company stores are gone, that mentality still exists there. There really is no alternative for a lot of people in coal country. You either work for the coal industry or you leave, you suffer total poverty...

Is there a cultural element to it? A little bit of red-state resentment toward blue-state elitism?

There is -- and justifiably. "We're wrecking our mountains; our people are dying for you fat cats to sit around on your butts and surf the internet. You live in a world powered by coal and you don't see at all the costs of it, but we, here in West Virginia or Kentucky, pay for it with our blood. Who are you to come down here and criticize us?" There is a big dose of that. And it's right, actually. We do take it completely for granted. We do burn their blood on that coal.

http://www.grist.org/advice/books/2006/07/14/coal/index.html

Anonymous said...

And speaking of West Virginia, as expected, Hillary Clinton, yesterday, trounced Barack Obama in that State's Democratic presidential primary.

While a lot as been made by the Clinton campaign and the MSM echo-chamber that Obama has a "rural" problem, what the map is revealing there is that Obama does not have a "rural" or "white" problem: He has an "Appalachia" problem. A map of the counties in which HRC beats Obama by 2 to 1 across the US would be virtually empty, except for a solid swath covering the run of the Appalachian Mountains.

As RJ Eskow recently pointed out in a recent article, even more interesting, perhaps, is the fact that 7% of the voters in West Virginia voted for John Edwards, who isn't even in the race:

"That fact is nothing short of stunning. Faced with a black man and a white woman, these voters chose a white man who isn't running. And these are Democrats. Among Southern whites, this makes them the Left."

If you are Appalachian by heritage, or are living here now, you may have heard of, or even taken part in, one of the primaries there.

What's your take on this? Is there a cultural element to Obama's Appalachian problem?

Janis said...

Thank you for the link. I read jazzolog's post and the articles by the woman he posted there. It is worse than I thought. I am an American white woman who has only lived, I realize, on the more privileged edges of this great country-- from both coasts of Florida, both coasts of Cape Cod and the very privileged coast of Southern California, with a brief stop in Austin, Texas, located inland, yet on a major river, home to a large university and the capital of the state. I've always been aware that I was living on the skirt of the so-called heartland in this country. This is the country we have: the United patched-worked States of America.

On another, but related subject, I also read another post on Jazzolog's page which interested me a lot and which I would like you to take a look at; speaking of America, and comprehension, and politics and, especially on this 40th anniversary of the famous May '68 demonstrations in France:
http://jazzolog.blogspot.com/2006/02/letter-to-american-leftthe-what.html

P.S. referring to anonymous's comment (i.e. 'what the map is revealing there is that Obama does not have a "rural" or "white" problem: he has an "Appalachia" problem'), I think it is the Appalachia that has an "Appalachian problem," the entire country, in fact, has an "Appalachia problem," and, quite possibly, the whole world. The devastation of the entire planet just to give greedy populations what they want while a few are making huge profits while keeping the slave labor in ignorance and in ill health to support this system, offering them "jobs" they can't refuse and doing nothing to elevate their lives. What a waste, what a terrible waste of landscape and human potential. Why do things have to keep being that way? Is there no way out?

jazzolog said...

I think I was in college (late '50s) before I heard the word "Appalachia" (long "a" in that 3rd syllable). Bates is a small private college in Maine, which then was populated overwhelmingly by students from New England. There were a handful of us from New York, but the guys I gravitated toward were from The City and I came from Upstate 365 miles west. They thought of me as a hillbilly and made fun of my accent. At the same time I learned my part of New York indeed was considered Appalachia---and actually got federal funding for that kind of barefoot, hayseed poverty. I thought I was a pretty cool, cosmopolitan guy...and so I went through something of an identity crisis mixed with culture shock---neither of which terms existed then.

Twenty-five years ago, my wife and I moved to Southeastern Ohio, where her family had settled 10 or 15 years earlier (from Appalachian Pennsylvania). To this day, I believe all of us are considered "outsiders" by the indigenous folks here, many of whose grandfathers came from the mountains of West Virginia to work the coal mines---and who were left high and dry when those owners took off.

Fortunately in the '50s the "outsider" became a cultural hero in the movies, Beat poems, and jazz---and an existential one in Camus. So I did OK, with minimum nervous breakdowns...but the suspicious attitude of Appalachia remains. I remember Jesse Jackson courted Appalachia a few years ago...and I don't mean to imply a racial comparison. He was advocating economic revival here somehow, and his argument was the typical Appalachian is born in a trailer, goes to school in a trailer, and dies in a trailer. His fatal error was that he thought Appalachians would agree with him that this was bad.

Obama's campaign emails supporters to come to Pennsylvania, come to West Virginia, and now come to Kentucky, to run telephone banks and go door to door. Try not to think of the hillbilly with his shotgun as the city people come up his driveway...but I'm not sure this is the strategy to get these particular blue collars out of the Republican and Libertarian ranks...were they've been since Reagan. Of all places, the best article I've seen of this topic showed up this morning in the Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2004415452_whitevoter15.html I'll post the whole thing in here when I have more time.

PS Elisa Young, whose photo graces this entry, continues to battle the coal-fired power plants that surround her family's farm---and does so pretty much alone.

jazzolog said...

The Seattle Times
Thursday, May 15, 2008
updated at 12:00 AM

Obama's Appalachian problem
By JONATHAN TILOVE
Newhouse News Service

WASHINGTON —

According to exit polls, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won 67 percent of the white vote in West Virginia, America's third-whitest state. Sen. Barack Obama in early March won 60 percent of the white vote in Vermont, the nation's second-whitest state.

What gives?

America is learning a lot about race this year, most recently that not all white voters are alike. There are enormous regional differences in how whites vote, differences with deep historical roots.

Clinton's romp in West Virginia, and in all likelihood another in neighboring Kentucky on Tuesday, do not prove that Obama has a problem with white voters generally or that whites have turned on him. He is expected to win in Oregon on Tuesday — it's 21st on the list of whitest states. His campaign noted Wednesday that he is doing better with white voters in national matchups with Sen. John McCain than either then-Vice President Al Gore or Sen. John Kerry did in their campaigns against President Bush.

But Clinton's West Virginia landslide does mean Obama, for reasons that go beyond race, has a problem with Appalachia's whites and the Scots-Irish who settled there and forever branded its culture.

These are people whose ancestors lived and fought along the brutal borderlands between England and Scotland, and later in Northern Ireland (they are the Protestants of Ulster). Unlike other British settlers, Scots-Irish migrated "directly to the wilderness of the Appalachian Mountains, bypassing even the rudiments of colonial civilization," Sen. Jim Webb writes in his 2004 book, "Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America."

Frequently occupying the lower rungs socially and economically, they always have been the most likely to fight and die for their country, Webb writes. They don't cling to guns; they proudly pass them on to their young sons as a rite of passage that Webb likens to a "redneck bar mitzvah." Webb, of Scots-Irish descent, says his father gave him his first rifle when he was 8 and his first boxing gloves when he was 6.

Around the same time, his father laid out "the eternal ground rules for street fighting," now echoed in the last days of the Clinton campaign: "Never start a fight, but never run away, even if you know you are going to lose. ... And whomever you fight, you must make them pay. You must always mark them, so that the next day they have to face the world with a black eye or a cut lip or a bruised cheek, and remember where they got it."

Keeping score

Enter Obama. With his Harvard pedigree, mellifluous voice and high-minded talk of moving beyond the politics of confrontation, he is totally out of place in Appalachia.

"What people don't understand about Appalachia is that we've heard all this 'hope' and 'change' stuff since the English kicked the Scotch-Irish out in the 1700s. We're 'hoped' out. Nothing ever changes out here," Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a Virginia political strategist who worked on John Edwards' campaign, told The Politico on the eve of the West Virginia vote.

For those keeping score, seven of the 10 whitest states have held primaries or caucuses. The Illinois senator has won five and the New York senator two — New Hampshire by an inch and now West Virginia by a country mile.

Stretch it to the 20 whitest states and the tally is 12 for Obama and five for Clinton, with three to go. If you limit it to primary and not caucus states, of the 20 whitest states, Obama has won four — Vermont, Wisconsin, Utah and Missouri — and Clinton has won five — New Hampshire, West Virginia, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Appalachia reaches from western New York and Pennsylvania down through eastern Ohio, all of West Virginia, stretches of western Virginia and the Carolinas, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee and on into north Georgia and Alabama and northeastern Mississippi. As Josh Marshall noted in a posting on Talking Points Memo after the West Virginia results were in, the map of Appalachia lines up pretty well with a map of counties where Clinton has won more than 60 percent of the vote.

"She's won the Appalachian region of every state contested," wrote Dana Houle, who in his postings on Daily Kos has dissected how Obama's difficulty in Appalachia does not necessarily translate into a broader or more permanent problem with white voters.

"No, Obama doesn't have a racial problem," Houle concluded. "It appears that Appalachia has an Obama problem."

Unlike John Kennedy who, with charm and money won the West Virginia primary in 1960, Obama barely contested West Virginia and seems to be taking a pass on Kentucky as well.

While his being black, or biracial, didn't help Obama there and elsewhere in Appalachia, ascribing racist motivations to Clinton supporters ignores the obvious, according to Michael Lind, a senior fellow at the New American Foundation. They could go with the newcomer Obama, who in April explained to some wealthy San Franciscans — their cultural arch-enemies — that small-town folks like them weren't with him because they were "bitter" about their lot. Or they could stick with a Clinton.

"Bill Clinton won Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia in 1992 and again four years later," Lind wrote on Salon. "Is it at all surprising that these very same voters, facing a recession, would choose another Democrat with the last name Clinton?"

More like John Adams

In his classic work, "Albion's Seed," Brandeis University historian David Hackett Fischer described the four distinctly different British migrations that made America.

Obama appeals more to whites like those in New England (although he lost Massachusetts and Rhode Island decisively), who inhabit the lands first settled by the more intellectual and moralistic Puritans, and the places from the Great Lakes to the Pacific Northwest where those New Englanders migrated.

In other words, Obama is more in the John Adams or John Quincy Adams mold, and voters in Appalachia are Andrew Jackson Democrats, for whom John McCain, with his Scots-Irish heritage and temperament, may appear to be the real McCoy.

"John McCain is very true to his Southern Highlands Mississippi origins," said Fischer, the historian.

Or as Patrick Ruffini, a Republican strategist, wrote on his blog back in February, "I've heard more than one guy mention McCain's volcanic temper as a positive. They equate this with toughness against our enemies."

Webb says the Scots-Irish — who were once Democrats — created the "core culture around which Red State America has gathered and thrived." But he does not believe they are irrevocably lost to the Democrats.

"In fact," Webb wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2004, "the greatest realignment in modern politics would take place rather quickly if the right national leader found a way to bring the Scots-Irish and African Americans to the same table."

It's an intriguing statement from a man who two years later was elected to the Senate and now is mentioned as a potential running mate for Obama.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/2004415452_whitevoter15.html

Anonymous said...

Interesting, indeed...

Much to his credit, Jim Webb is one of the few Democrats who opposed the Iraq war from the start AND he is not a "Washington politics" old-boy.

He delivered the Democratic response to Bush’s State of the Union speech, last year.

Two memorable quotes from that speech:

In the early days of our republic, President Andrew Jackson established an important principle of American-style democracy: that we should measure the health of our society not at its apex, but at its base. Not with the numbers that come out of Wall Street, but with the living conditions that exist on Main Street. We must recapture that spirit today.

AND

The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command. . .and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable - and predicted - disarray that has followed.

Nausicaa said...

Pertinent site on Coal there: Coal is not the answer.

I quote:

"The coal industry has spent over $40 million on misleading advertising that touts coal as the next great thing to solve the energy crisis. It’s time for a reality check. We will not stand by idly as they spew their propaganda. Check out the video and the coal topics on this site to learn more about the deception of the coal industry and how it stands in the way of real solutions such as wind and solar. Better yet, join the conversations in the comment threads and help drop a dose of reality on the coal industry. Let us know about the coal misinformation you see in your local community. Whether it be a bogus TV ad, billboard or news article, let everyone know what it said and why you’re just not buying it."

The issue has generated quite an interesting thread which should be of interest to those on jazzolog, like bluemountainmama, who have an interest in the topic.

There is little doubts that coal mining, especially where mountain top removal is involved, has been an ecological disaster, but what is a coal miner to do?

Can Carbon County kick the habit---and still survive economically? So asks Josh Dorner in an August 12, 2008 article about Carbon County, Pennsylvania, which in a poetic turn, is now set to host the second largest solar facility in the nation:

"Though coal may putatively (and politically) remain king in many areas of the country--particularly in Appalachia, the number of people employed in coal mining has plunged. Coal employment in Pennsylvania, for example, peaked at 121,000 in 1942 and hovers at just 8,000 today. The tenacious and powerful United Mine Workers had half a million members in the 1950s, today it is left with just 86,600 members and now represents just 42 percent of the workers in the industry. The loss of jobs in the coal industry has not only brought deepening economic hardship to Appalachia, but since it has come in no small measure as result of mountaintop removal mining it has also wrought environmental disaster."

"By Contrast," Josh Dorners says, "renewable energy is bringing new opportunities to economically depressed communities, including parts of Pennsylvania that were decimated by the collapse of the steel industry":

"Thanks to the tireless efforts of Gov. Ed Rendell (and smart policies like a state Renewable Electricity Standard and other incentives), Gamesa, the Spanish wind company, has located four factories and its North American headquarters in Pennsylvania--creating over 1,000 new, union-represented jobs and over $1 billion in US sales in under 4 years......Rendell's efforts have lured numerous other renewable energy projects--with some 10,000 new jobs--to the state."

jazzolog said...

I'm glad you got this entry alive again, Nausicca, so I can update a bit about Elisa Young, whose picture is up at the top. I happened to spend an evening with her at an OU meeting about so-called clean coal technology. As usual, Elisa tore the place up with her pointed questions and challenges. Everybody who tried to answer her from the corporation and attorneys found she got the last word and was sending them back to the drawing table. She addressed them all on a first-name basis and obviously they knew who she was too.

Since I wrote this originally, Elisa has been welcoming interns to her family farm, so she has been spreading the word about the much greater devastation coal has done to this mining area than any wealth it may have created in the way of that magic Republican word: JOBS. She also just completed a tour of Pennsylvania and New York, including the City, during which she has been informing people where their electricity actually comes from (here) and the damage it creates. She hopes people will think of that each time they flip a switch. A remarkable woman, working alone tirelessly.

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