Water Man Spouts

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


"In May 2002 I flew over the hills of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennesse, and saw a sight that would sicken most Americans. The mining industry is dismantling the ancient mountains and pristine streams of Appalachia through a form of strip-mining known as mountaintop removal. Mining companies blow off hundreds of feet from the tops of mountains to reach the thin seams of coal beneath. Colossal machines dump the mountaintops into adjacent valleys, destroying forests and communities and burying free-flowing mountain streams in the process. I saw the historic landscapes that gave America some of its most potent cultural legends – the forests where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed, the hills that bred the soldiers who followed Andrew Jackson, the frontier hollows that cradled our democracy, the wilderness wellspring of our values, our virtues, our national character – all being leveled.

"According to the EPA, the waste from mountaintop removal has permanently interred 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams, polluted the region’s groundwater and rivers, and rendered 400,000 acres of some of the world’s most biologically rich temperate forests into flat, barren wastelands, ‘limited in topographic relief, devoid of flowing water’."
--Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; Crimes Against Nature: How George W. Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy; 2004; pages 114-115.

Last night I watched the television premiere of "Burning the Future: Coal in America" on the Sundance Channel. It is a powerful documentary that tells about the conflict between the people of West Virginia and the coal industry. I strongly recommend that people take the time to watch it.

In his book "Crimes Against Nature," Robert Kennedy, Jr., addresses the topic in Chapter 7: King Coal. I strongly recommend that book, as well.

Last night, the media covered the democratic primary in West Virginia in what I thought were strangely limited terms. Although I favor Senator Barack Obama, I felt that Senator Hillary Clinton’s win was significant. It wasn’t important in the sense that she is any closer to winning the nomination for president. Rather, it was worthy of our attention, because the people of West Virginia are experiencing the problems that are defining our nation’s struggle: community values versus corporate profits; the environment being destroyed for the benefit of the Cheneyites; children’s health being compromised by wastes dumped into community water supplies.

I have yet to hear any of the people on the cable news attributing Senator Clinton’s support to her positions on the environment. And I haven’t heard them mention that Robert Kennedy, Jr., who is known to poor communities as the most honorable environmental advocate in the land, has endorsed Senator Clinton.

Instead, I hear things that seem geared to place the story about the struggle for democracy in the communities in West Virginia in the margins, where it will be ignored. More, there are news reports that I believe are aimed at creating larger divisions in the democratic party.

If we are going to achieve a true democratic victory in the fall of 2008, it must include the voice of the people in West Virginia being heard. I support Brack Obama, and am fully confident that he will be elected president this fall. Yet I have respect for the struggle for democracy in West Virginia, including for the people looking to Kennedy and Clinton for leadership.

I hope that others will consider these issues as we discuss what shape an Obama administration should take.


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