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Coal's True Cost


Last evening's GOP CNN/YouTube debate and the Democratic presidential debate on November 15 were jointly sponsored by a coal industry coalition comprised of mining, railroad and utility interests.

Their high profile civic involvement is designed to further confuse American voters about coal's true cost to our society. Many of the Republican candidates have endorsed massive new subsidies for King Coal and dutifully parrot industry talking points including earnest promises of cheap "clean coal." Given that climate change is the most urgent threat to our collective survival, it is shocking that no debate moderator has pressed the candidates to clearly state their positions on "clean coal."

In fact, there is no such thing as "clean coal." And coal is only "cheap" if one ignores its calamitous externalized costs. In addition to global warming, these include dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates. Coal's most catastrophic and permanent impacts are from mountaintop removal mining. If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country.

Well now you can visit coal country without ever having to leave your home. Every presidential candidate and every American ought to take a few seconds to visit an ingenious new website created by Appalachian Voices, that allows one to tour the obliterated landscapes of Appalachia. And it's not just Arch Coal, Massey Coal and their corporate toadies in electoral politics who are culpable for the disaster. The amazing new website allows you to enter your zip code to learn how you're personally connected to the great crime of mountaintop removal. Using this website Americans from Maine to California can see these mountains and the communities that were sacrificed to power their home. The tool uses Google Maps and Google Earth as interfaces to a large database of power plants and mountaintop removal coal mines. A November 15, 2007 article in the Wall Street Journal highlighted the site as one of the most innovative, cutting-edge uses of these powerful tools. The site puts a human face on the issue by highlighting the stories of families living in the shadows of these mines.

Each day the coal barons from companies like Massey and Arch detonate 2500 tons of explosives-the power of a Hiroshima bomb every week-to blow away Appalachian mountain tops to reach the coal seams beneath. Colossal machines then plow the rock and debris into the adjacent river valleys and hollows, destroying forests and burying free-flowing mountain streams, flattening North America's most ancient mountain range. According to EPA 1,200 miles of American rivers and streams have already been permanently interred and 470 of Appalachia's largest mountains have simply disappeared, leaving behind giant pits and barren moonscapes, some as large as Manhattan Island. I recently flew over one 18 square-mile pit - Hobet 21 - which you can now tour on Google Earth!

We are literally cutting down the historic landscapes where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed and that are so much the source of American's values, character and culture.

Mountaintop mining poisons water supplies, pollutes the air and destroys hundreds of miles of North America's most ancient and biologically diverse hardwood forests and permanently impoverishes local communities. Millions of dollars earned from this criminal enterprise land in the coffers of the politicians now jockeying to lead our country to a "new energy future." Mountaintop removal is one of the biggest environmental holocausts in human history. Wherever you live, you have a connection-and a responsibility.

The effort to end mountaintop removal has been gaining steam over the past year. As of today, the leading Congressional plan to ban the practice has 118 co-sponsors-dozens more than last year, with over a year to go in the 110th Congress.

From Appalachia to the Western states of Wyoming and Utah, the strip miners have permanently destroyed some of the most beautiful country on Earth, leaving behind a legacy of misery and poverty. For too long Arch, Massey and their tame politicians have hidden their crimes in the remote poverty-stricken communities of Appalachia. This new website finally exposes this national disgrace for every American to witness. Our aspiring presidential leaders at the very least should be asked to explain their position on this shameful and corrupt enterprise.