Corporate Hyperbole

A guilty verdict should be rendered against the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) for misleading hyperbole associated with its defense of destructive mountaintop-removal mining. It is a verdict that would further erode the already rickety credibility of this Washington-based think tank that is an outspoken cheerleader for unfettered capitalism in general and the fossil fuel industry in particular.

The rationale for a guilty verdict stems from a ludicrous assertion by the CEI in behalf of its corporate clientele. William Yeatman, a CEI energy policy "expert" charged that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) revocation of a permit for a West Virginia mountaintop mining operation "would trade jobs for protection of an insect that lives for a day and isn't even an endangered species."

Yeatman's preposterous accusation suggests he doesn't believe he has a convincing case on the merits or feels incapable of making one. His contention that the EPA is willing to "trade jobs for bugs" both literally and figuratively does not hold water. EPA's denial of the mining permit had to do with a lot more than some short-lived insect's survival. Its main impetus was the Mingo-Logan Coal Company gearing up to shear off the top of a mountain to get at a mother lode of carbon ore and dump the spoil into unpolluted streams in the valley below. At risk were the potability of the drinking water supply and ultimate survivability of the West Virginia communities downstream.

Yes, bugs would perish if the spoil from the company's Spruce mine clogged and contaminated miles of mountain streams, but so would fish and the entire spectrum of wildlife dependent on that habitat.

It's legitimate for critics to point out that 250 temporary coal mining jobs will be lost by the revocation of the permit. But that needs to be balanced against destruction of a vital renewable natural resource on which thousands of West Virginians depend for their very existence. Moreover, you've got to be leery when industry raises the old bugaboo that regulation will drive them out of business and destroy the nation's economy. We have been hearing that same song and dance for the past half century, even as the majority of the regulated complainants have recorded record profits and seen their share prices soar on Wall Street.

In the case of the Spruce Coal mine, there were EPA recommendations the company could have adopted to divert spoil from the streams below and by doing so won permission to proceed. But the company stonewalled.

The Spruce Mine's difficulties are a welcome sign of the times. Mountaintop-removal mining companies have reason to worry about the future of their vocation, and deservedly so. They are slicing off numerous mountain peaks, leaving moonscapes and polluted streams in their wake. EPA has finally recognized the devastating extent of mountaintop mining's impact and moved in the direction of ending the practice altogether, leaving less environmentally disruptive deep mining ventures as the main method of coal extraction.

Add the emerging technologies of wind, solar and other clean renewable alternative energy sources to the national energy mix and who needs to engage in ecological desecration of Appalachia?

Edward Flattau's fourth book Green Morality is now available.