THEIR VIEW: The way forward on mountaintop removal

By The West Virginia Record | Jun 25, 2009

MORGANTOWN -- So there's not going to be a head-to-head debate between Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship and NASA climate scientist James Hansen about global warning and coal mining.

At first blush, I say that's too bad. As a reporter and talk show host I must-if I'm honest with myself and you-admit my attraction to conflict and controversy.

Blankenship vs. Hansen might generate enough heat to speed up global warming, but I don't think there would be much light.

Blankenship runs a big coal company and believes the theory of man-made global warming is bad science. Hansen is a global warming true believer who has identified coal-fired power plants as "factories of death."

A debate between them-if done right-might be entertaining theatre, especially for the partisans of each side. I can almost hear the catcalls as well as the cheers.

Common ground? You would have a better chance of getting a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians. At least they share interest in the same piece of land.

No doubt at the end of the debate, each side could declare victory and go home-nothing settled. No new ground broken.

Tomorrow, the same arguments exist in the hills and hollows of West Virginia where the coal is mined and people live.

The climate change debate is all the rage, but it's impractical as it relates to day-to-day life in the coal fields of West Virginia. Let's forget for a minute whether the atmosphere is going to warm by a degree and whether burning coal is causing it and focus instead on the mine and people who live nearby.

I don't think mountaintop removal mining is going away, no matter how many times Daryl Hanna comes here, but nor to I believe West Virginians who have had their property damaged and lives upended by mining will, or should, quit complaining.

So reasonable people should try to find a way to co-exist and let the extremists argue their talking points in the media and with their sycophants.

Here are generally accepted facts. Coal companies want to mine coal to make a profit. Workers want the jobs at the mines and related industries. People who live near the mines want their quality of life protected.

So, where can they meet?

Mine operators need to send a few of their people to conflict resolution classes. It's not enough just to follow the rules; they should become experts at solving problems and potential conflicts with nearby property owners when they arise.

Mine workers should empathize more with the people who live near the mine who are directly affected. Yes, the jobs are critical, but understand that nobody likes living near a surface mine.

And those who oppose MTR should accept that coal mining is important to the state and it's not going to go away, at least not for many years.

I'm not saying there is a compromise to be had on mountaintop removal mining. That would almost be like saying there's a compromise on abortion. A compromise suggests a settlement of differences on the fundamental issue: To mine or not to mine.

But there can be compromises on the day-to-day disputes that arise because of MTR that would allow co-existence, even if it's uneasy.

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