Thursday, February 26, 2015

Deadly coal

On February 26, 1972:

a coal waste dam owned by the Pittston Company collapsed at the head of a crowded hollow in southern West Virginia. A wall of sludge, debris, and water tore through the valley below, leaving in its wake 125 dead and 4000 homeless. The Pittston Company, owners of the dam, denied any wrongdoing, maintaining that the disaster was 'an act of God'.

The Catholic Worker community in which I was living at that time had a small offshoot in the neighborhood of the disaster. We reported on the horror, aghast.

Last summer we drove through West Virginia and southern Pennsylvania. Some places, the only signs of life were billboards defending coal mining from its environmental detractors.

We know that politically, coal is still king in those parts. As recently as 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a coal company executive couldn't just spend millions on electing his own partisan judge to the West Virginia Supreme Court to escape a damages judgement. The coal magnates had just been doing "business as usual." (It was a close vote at the Supremes as things are these days; Judge Anthony Kennedy had to defect from the conservatives to win this repudiation of "undue influence.")

And coal turns out to be the preeminent source of the carbon dioxide pollution that is driving climate change. Even if the companies doing the mining were models of rectitude, we'd have to stop using it if we don't want to fry.

The memory of the Buffalo Creek flood, of those people, their houses, their community washed away by a callous company, has to be part of the indictment of coal mining. I wonder if the children of the survivors are working in the industry. They might be, if there is still any coal mining in the area. People do what they have to do.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

Right. For most day to day concerns trump long term thinking.

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