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Jeff Biggers

Jeff Biggers

Posted: March 3, 2010 02:48 PM

Bogus Award of the Week: Humane Society Honors Rahall Tonight for Mustangs, While Appalachia Burns

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"I watched you suffer a dull aching pain
Now you've decided to show me the same
But no sweet, vain exits or offstage lines
Could make me feel bitter or treat you unkind
Wild horses couldn't drag me away
Wild, wild horses, couldn't drag me away"--"Wild Horses," The Rolling Stones

This might be one of the Humane Society's cruelest acts against animals, and humanity.

In the face of one of the most irreversible and egregious environmental and wildlife catastrophes in the hemisphere, and a blatant disregard for the human rights violations of mountaintop removal, the Humane Society announced March 3rd that it will give its "2009 Humane Legislator of the Year" to the greatest congressional defender of mountaintop removal -- House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, (D-W.Va.).

While Rahall defiantly leads the campaign to detonate over 3.5 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives in his state every day for mountaintop removal and strip mining operations -- that's over 5 billion pounds of explosives detonated in West Virginia alone since 2004, give or take a few million -- wiping out historic mountain ranges and all flora and fauna in its way, the Humane Society is sucking up to Rahall's powerful role on the Natural Resource Committee to honor him "for his leadership on the Restore Our American Mustangs (ROAM) Act to overhaul the Interior Department's management of wild horses on public lands and restore the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros; and for skillfully guiding eleven wildlife protection measures successfully through that Committee and to approval by the full House."

Wow, wild jack asses and horses can run free in the West.

But wildlife and American citizens, as part of one of the largest forced removals since the mid-19th century, are being rounded up and moved off their land to appease outside coal companies.

What is the Humane Society thinking? Don't they know about the nightmare of mountaintop removal -- just check out this upcoming documentary, On Coal River, from Rahall's district:

Says Bob Kincaid, a broadcaster and activist in the Coal River Valley area of West Virginia:


"The Humane Society couldn't have consulted with anyone working to save the fauna of southern Appalachia. It's impossible to think of Representative Rahall as a 'humane legislator' in light of the thousands and thousands of wild animals he's condemned to death or dislocation via his slavish dedication to perpetuating Mountaintop Removal."

Kincaid adds:

Mountaintop Removal has destroyed over five hundred Appalachian mountains and buried over a thousand miles of streams in one of the most biodiverse regions of the entire planet. Those mountains Rep. Rahall has helped kill were home to deer, bears, bobcats, squirrels, raccoons, possums, foxes, rabbits, hawks, owls, snakes, lizards, songbirds, fish, frogs and sundry other living things for which Congressman Rahall shows openly hostile disdain. His disregard for West Virginia's wildlife population is further manifested in the fact that he actively opposes real science that has proven beyond question that the ecological harm done by Mountaintop Removal is irreversible over a span of time measured in tens of thousands of years.

Two weeks ago, Rahall defiantly touted his historic role in ensuring mountaintop removal and its wrath in Appalachia:

Some 200 members of the House proposed legislation to abolish the method, but it went to the Roads and Transportation Committee, where Rahall is vice chairman.

"I blocked it," he said. "I kept it from even having a hearing on it. It would have passed Congress overwhelmingly. It was a freebie. Republicans would have voted to end mountaintop removal."

Since it's not an issue in their districts, he said, "they'd have voted to abolish it in a heartbeat."

Another means of wiping out the practice would be to amend the surface mining and reclamation law which Rahall authored in his first year in Congress in 1977.

"Guess where that has to go?" he asked. "The Natural Resources Committee. Guess who's chairman? Me."

Rahall recalled bringing former Rep. Mo Udall, D-Ariz., a strict environmentalist, to West Virginia back in 1977, and once he observed reclaimed land, he agreed to work toward a compromise on surface mining.

As I wrote last year, Rahall often crows about his role in defending mountaintop removal:

In 1977, as a 20-something freshman US Representative, Rahall made sure one of his first acts in Congress was to drive a loophole through the decade-long work of fellow West Virginia congressman Ken Hechler to ban strip mining. On the 30th anniversary of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Rahall recalled escorting US Rep. Mo Udall, the venerable House Natural Resources Committee Chair, to the southern Appalachian coalfields, where Rahall convinced the Arizona congressman to include a loophole for mountaintop removal operations in the surface mining bill. At a House hearing on the anniversary of SMCRA, Rahall crowed: "And he (Udall) agreed that with flatland at such a premium, that we should not totally abolish the practice of mountaintop mining; but that we should have an exemption, an exemption that would allow for better post-mining uses of that land."


Thirty years later, while Rahall still talks about putting golf courses and shopping centers on flattened ranges for "higher uses," the truth is that less than 3-5 percent of all mountaintop removal sites, according to most studies and estimates, have been returned to any post-mining uses. As Charleston Gazette reporter Ken Ward detailed in a brilliant report in 1998 -- before the unfettered nightmare of the Bush administration mining policies was even unleashed -- most mountaintop mines were left as flattened pasture, at best.


In 2004, the Wilderness Society granted Rahall the coveted Ansel Adams Award, for "protecting our national monuments from oil and gas drilling, and safeguarding Yellowstone's geysers from geothermal development, just to name three."

Tonight's "Humane Legislator of the Year Award" is nothing less than an insult to besieged animals, and American citizens, in Appalachia and across the nation.