Extractive energy industries have dominated West Virginia for years. These extractive industries have bough off the legal system and continue to poison people and essentially destroy the environment. The data is horrific:
- Over 100,000 coal miners have been slaughtered in mining accidents
- Over 1,500 miners die of black lung disease each year
- Over 500 mountains have been destroyed by strip mining, destroying over 1.5 million acres of forest and trees
- Valley fills have buried or polluted over 2,000 miles of headwater streambeds
The biodiversity of central Appalachia is threatened by the pollution. Human residents struggle with contaminated water and dangerous dams like the one that exploded in Buffalo Creek in 1972. The explosion killed 125 people and left over 1,000 people injured. Four-fifths of the population was left homeless. The company that owned the dam, Pittston Coal Company, referred to the explosion as "an act of God"
One would think that it would be easy to convince the people of West Virginia to fight for a cleaner environment but the ironic thing is that it is not so easy. Their resistance comes down to survival instincts. The way these industries have bought off the government and the people is that they have minimized access to healthcare, education and other social services, which has kept tax rates low. Some corporations don't have to pay taxes at all.
A movement away from coal must include unionized employment with living wages and benefits for all people that would be economically displaced. Healthy jobs could be created through building a green national power grid linked to wind and solar power systems.
What is happening now is that the hand that feeds the people in West Virginia is the also the hand that bites them, essentially deceiving them and keeping them disillusioned. This same hand continues to pollute our air and water and damage our environment. It is also the hand that is holding out national government hostage. Unfortunately the greater environmental movement has not yet come up with a plan to make cause recognized as common to the nation. How to obtain political influence? It seems the only way is to have enough money to purchase politicians and elections. Or we could build a constituency of voters so large they will be impossible to avoid at polls. Environmentalists will have to rally up enough resistant people/voters who trust them. If we cannot get environmentalists in office, we are unfortunately slaves to these big industries.
In addition to getting environmentalists in office, it may also be necessary to partner with organized labor. Bringing the labor movement on our side is key to developing any modicum of power that could influence the current election system.
Why unions? You'll find more on this next month.