This headline struck a nerve: “G.O.P. Reverses Obama-Era Rule to Protect Streams from Coal Mining.” The past couple of months have been tough and disorienting, to be sure, but for some reason, reading this really got to me. Per the accompanying New York Times article, the rule, which was established in the last few weeks of in President Obama’s administration, requires companies to restore a mined area to its original physical and ecological state, and to monitor environmental effects, which would have effectively made mountaintop removal uneconomical. My wife follows Speaker Paul Ryan on Facebook, and Mr. Ryan’s office was aglow in making this post: “This week, the House took action to block five costly Obama administration regulations, including a rule that threatens to wipe out thousands of jobs in coal country.”
Congratulations, Mr. Ryan! Some nice window dressing there. You have done nothing for the hurting people of Appalachia with this move, and the “thousands of jobs” is simply a lie. This action will do nothing to “bring back coal,” but you can guarantee that some greedy company out there will try to suck one more ounce out of the ancient hills of Appalachia, and maim and pollute a delicate forest and stream system that the fine people of my home state will have to deal with forever.
As young boys and teenagers, my brother and I often roamed the narrow hollows of Josephine, WV with our two best friends, Jeff and Steve. A nice stream flowed behind the small houses in that hollow, lined with rhododendrons, and mostly dark and cool year-round. It was a tantalizing stream for us as kids, especially on a hot summer day, but we were not technically allowed to play in that stream. (Of course we did from time-to-time, and dealt with the consequences—which were mild—afterward.) Why could we not play in the stream? Perhaps people were dumping raw sewage in there, or perhaps it was the fact that a coal mine sat just a few hundred yards upstream, spewing out mercury, lead, and acid mine drainage concoctions.