Planet Gore

Apocalypse Now

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in today’s Washington Post:

Mountaintop removal coal mining is the worst environmental tragedy in American history. When will the Obama administration finally stop this Appalachian apocalypse?

If ever an issue deserved President Obama’s promise of change, this is it. Mining syndicates are detonating 2,500 tons of explosives each day — the equivalent of a Hiroshima bomb weekly — to blow up Appalachia’s mountains and extract sub-surface coal seams. They have demolished 500 mountains — encompassing about a million acres — buried hundreds of valley streams under tons of rubble, poisoned and uprooted countless communities, and caused widespread contamination to the region’s air and water. On this continent, only Appalachia’s rich woodlands survived the Pleistocene ice ages that turned the rest of North America into a treeless tundra. King Coal is now accomplishing what the glaciers could not — obliterating the hemisphere’s oldest, most biologically dense and diverse forests. Highly mechanized processes allow giant machines to flatten in months mountains older than the Himalayas — while employing fewer workers for far less time than other types of mining. The coal industry’s promise to restore the desolate wastelands is a cruel joke, and the industry’s fallback position, that the flattened landscapes will provide space for economic development, is the weak punchline. America adores its Adirondacks and reveres the Rockies, while the Appalachian Mountains — with their impoverished and alienated population — are dismantled by coal moguls who dominate state politics and have little to prevent them from blasting the physical landscape to smithereens.

Obama promised science-based policies that would save what remains of Appalachia, but last month senior administration officials finally weighed in with a mixture of strong words and weak action that broke hearts across the region. The modest measures federal bureaucrats promised amount to little more than a tepid pledge of better enforcement of existing laws.

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