Home Energy and Environment If You Think Coal is Ugly, How About Coal and Poverty?

If You Think Coal is Ugly, How About Coal and Poverty?


Yesterday on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Morgan Griffith (R-09), did exactly what you’d expect a puppet of Big Coal to do. In a laughably lame speech, filled with distortions and ignorance of all sorts (e.g., scientific, economic, environmental), Griffith argued for weakening laws and regulations protecting water quality against arsenic, lead, mercury, and other nasty stuff that results from “mountaintop removal mining.” and that poisons the streams and rivers – and people – of his region. As JW Randolph of Appalachian Voices points out, Griffith’s Amendment #109 “would defund EPA’s authority to implement its recent guidance regarding mountaintop removal, which protects American citizens and Appalachian headwater streams from toxic mountaintop removal mining waste.” J.W. Randolph continues:

But why is it so important that we stand up and oppose rolling back citizen protections that could streamline and deregulate mountaintop removal?

Here is an example of the water running through Congressman Morgan Griffith’s district in beautiful southwestern Virginia. As a result of mountaintop removal mining, more than 2000 miles of headwater streams in Appalachia have been buried. As you can see, this horrible water containing arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium, and a host of other heavy metals and chemicals not only affects the incredible Appalachian ecosystems, but it also directly impacts tap water.

Look at that water, mixed with toxic substances. Imagine an America where water everywhere looked like that. Now imagine if the coal companies and their lapdogs – people like Morgan Griffith – get their way. That’s right, water quality just like that could be coming to a stream, river, or tap near you. Don’t let them do it.

Now, with regard to Griffith’s bizarre claim that if we keep water clean for people to drink, it will mean unemployment in coal country, I refer you to a couple of studies.

First, see here for a ranking of Virginia’s congressional districts by health and well being of the population. Note that Morgan Griffith’s district, which he claims will be plunged into poverty if mountaintop removal coal mining operations are not allowed to poison water in the region, is ranked #410 (out of 435 congressional districts) in the country overall, including #434 in physical health, #432 in emotional health, and #373 in “life evaluation.” Yeah, coal’s really brought health and prosperity to Appalachia, huh? Not.

Now, see this study by two professors at West Virginia University, entitled, “Mortality in Appalachian Coal Mining

Regions: The Value of Statistical Life Lost.” The bottom line: the health impacts and cost of lives lost due to coal operations in Appalachia total around $42 billion every single year, in that region alone. Furthermore, the heaviest coal-mining regions of Appalachia are worse off in every way compared to the below-median coal-mining regions, and even more so compared to the rest of the country. That’s right, the areas with the most mountaintop removal coal mining are worse off in just about every way – health, education, poverty, environmental conditions, unemployment, mortality – than other areas of Appalachia with less mountaintop removal coal mining. In statistics, that’s what is known as “a strong correlation.” In the vernacular, it’s what is known as “really bad,” “truly nasty,” and “a powerful rebuttal to anyone who claims that coal can be ‘clean!'”

Finally, check out this recent Harvard study, which finds that the “Full Cost Accounting For the Life Cycle Of Coal” adds up to a huge, whopping $500 billion – in public health costs, “the cost of toxic waste spills and cleanup,” and many other “hidden costs.”  Costs such as poisoning the water with arsenic, lead, mercury, and other nasty stuff that’s toxic to people, wildlife, and pretty much everything else. Except, of course, to the coal companies and their lackeys in Congress, who love being able to do what they will on public lands, to trash ecosystems with absolute impunity, and to destroy the economy of “coal country” while racking up huge profits for themselves. As Jim Webb wrote on “Born Fighting”, this is how it worked back then, and how it still works today:

The people from the outside showed up [in Appalachian coal country] with complicated contracts…asking for “rights” to mineral deposits they could not see, and soon they were treated to a sundering of their own earth as the mining companies ripped apart their way of life, so that after a time the only option was to go down into the hole and bring the Man his coal, or starve. The Man got his coal, and the profits it brought when he shipped it out. They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land...Coal made this part of Appalachia a poverty-stricken basket case while the rest of the mountain region remained mired in isolation.

In sum, to paraphrase Morgan Griffith’s fallacious words on the floor of the House of Representatives yesterday, “if you think coal is ugly, how about coal and poverty?”

  • Elaine in Roanoke

    The mountains of Appalachia have seen wave after wave of exploiters coming through, taking their profits, leaving the people and the land poorer. The coal barons are just the latest. Morgan Griffith surely knows that he is simply the latest prostitute hired to advance their interests. He is a whore to polluters.

    If the people of the region are lucky enough, the movement to western coal, which is cheaper to produce, will continue. If the nation is very lucky, the move toward renewable energy will continue apace and hasten the day when coal is no longer the primary fuel used to produce electricity.

  • The money made from coal doesn’t stay in those communities.  For every dollar paid out in wages (which has been fewer and fewer, as mining has become more mechanized over the past century) there are billions shipped elsewhere.  This is just pure coal company propaganda.