succumbing to peer pressure

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


For the past two days my facebook page has been filling up with thoughts and prayers for coal miners and vindictive wishes for Massey Energy. By this morning a couple of my regular blogs had chimed in.

When I was in eighth grade I read Storming Heaven. Again, this morning, Denise Giardina gets it right.

It seems we can’t escape our heritage. I grew up in a coal camp in the southern part of the state. Every day my school bus drove past a sign posted by the local coal company keeping tally, like a basketball scoreboard, of “man hours” lost to accidents. From time to time classmates whose fathers had been killed or maimed would disappear, their families gone elsewhere to seek work.

We knew then, and know now, that we are a national sacrifice area. We mine coal despite the danger to miners, the damage to the environment and the monomaniacal control of an industry that keeps economic diversity from flourishing here. We do it because America says it needs the coal we provide.

West Virginians get little thanks in return. Our miners have historically received little protection, and our politicians remain subservient to Big Coal. Meanwhile, West Virginia is either ignored by the rest of the nation or is the butt of jokes about ignorant hillbillies.

Here in West Virginia we will forget our fleeting dream of basketball glory and get about the business of mourning. It is, after all, something we do very well.


Blogger Sid said...

Mmm... I feel the need to argue. So, I come from another big coal mining state. Hell, my father WAS a coal miner, before heading back to school to get his PhD. Family friends and relatives still are miners in Alaska and back in India. So, I feel like I've got a little skin in the game here...

Massey Energy deserves to burn for blatantly endangering its workers like it has. But I don't blame the coal industry as a whole... I'd just blame the culture/politics of West Virgina, that put corporate interests before the interests of its citizens. Alaskan Coal mining has a great safety record. Montana, too. The operating companies are the same, the environment is argueably harsher elsewhere, so why the difference?

Oh right, oversight. The state government of WV just didn't care much, beyond a warning and a slap on the wrist. And the federal government? Well, they tore apart the Bureau of Mines back in 1995.... since then, we haven't had any sort of concerted effort to make coal mining any safer or cleaner.

America DOES need coal. Besides natural gas, it's the only real source of energy that we can use immediately and have in great supply. Plus, it's a lot more cost stable than other fossil fuels. But, like so many other things, we just need to do it right and that requires regulation and oversight, not rhetoric about "big coal".

2:16 PM  
Blogger Sid said...

Actually, in all fairness, I'll say the whole "get the coal, damn the consequences" attitude isn't a WV thing, it's an Appalachia thing, since I could just as easily apply it to Pennsylvania or Kentucky. But you get the gist.

2:30 PM  
Blogger Megan said...

Agreed, Sid. I'm not anti-big coal - I was more agreeing with Giardina's point that WV is a national sacrifice.

You're totally right that it's a corruption problem - big coal completely owns WV's government, and they have shown time and again that they're much more interested in money than safety and human lives. The problem is, coal is essentially the only game in town, so what other lobbying group can compete? (that's not an excuse - just an assessment of financial reality) We do need big government (in the form of the, rightly pointed out by you, gutted Bureau of Mines) to provide stricter regulation and enforcement of such regulation.

As for Alaska and Montana, I have to point out that it's not quite apples and apples. WV is the second-most coal producing state in the country (second to Wyoming). Montana is 5th and Alaska is 21st (according to the Energy Information Administration's Annual Coal Report, 2008). So that's what I'm thinking of when Giardina says we're a national sacrifice.

We could potentially learn something from Wyoming's safety record, but the vast majority of their coal comes from surface mining, whereas ours is a mixture, but majority underground (in 2007-2008 Wyoming had 19 surface mines and 1 underground, WV has 186 underground mines, 115 surface). So it's a different sort of industry/work/technology/etc.
(number and type of mines from

1:16 PM  

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