Editor’s note: Dan, wife & kids have repaired to Ocean City, Md., where they are crabbing, riding the waves, sunbathing and hanging out with The world-famous Nighthawks this week. Herewith are some “greatest hits” columns until Casey returns. This column originally appeared Feb. 17.
The coal industry has been harshly criticized in recent years over the mining process known as “mountaintop removal.”
Environmentalist critics have gotten all the attention and given mountaintop removal a bad rap. Nobody has explored its many benefits.
It’s time to even that score and we’ll start right now.
The best thing about mountain-top removal is that it removes those shade-causing mountains. Have you ever lived on the east side of one of those, in the winter? It gets darn cold when the sun drops behind them around 2:30 in the afternoon.
Removing those mountains will warm people’s homes, which will cause people to use their electric heaters less, which will mean the power company will need less coal to generate electricity.
Which means the coal company won’t have to remove the mountains.
In that sneaky but counterintuitive way, mountain-top removal actually saves the mountain tops, though this is not widely understood.
I learned this last year from Don Blankenship, the former CEO of coal giant Massey Energy, when he took me on a three-week, all-expenses paid fact-finding hunting safari to Africa (Thanks, Don — very informative).
Flattening the landscape has other benefits. First, people save money on gasoline because they’re not driving up steep roads all the time. They also save money on brake pads because they’re not driving down them.
The side benefits are reduced emissions of both carbon, which causes global warming, and asbestos, which causes lung cancer. Let’s keep that on the down-low though, because we wouldn’t want to upset the pro-pollution crowd. You know how they can get.
There are many other benefits of mountaintop removal, such as all the money it saves with new highways.
Moving earth and building bridges are the most expensive parts of new highways, you know. But when coal companies blast away the hills and fill in the streams with former mountains, they do all the major landscaping for free.
Cheaper highways means transportation trust fund revenues will stretch further, which means there’ll be less pressure to raise gas taxes.
That is no great benefit for Virginia because the Virginia General Assembly will never raise the gas tax again, for any reason. But it might help in other states that have saner transportation-funding policies.
Flatter landscapes also mean easier bicycling. That means more people will ride bikes, which will get them in shape and lower their blood pressure and cholesterol. Thus, mountaintop removal reduces deaths from heart attacks (diabetes, too).
You will never read this in the New England Journal of Medicine, though, because the pharmaceutical companies that make billions off cholesterol and diabetes medicines have paid off the coal mining companies to shut up about it.
Mountain top removal also creates huge sprawling plains which are ideal places to build new Walmarts. Newspaper reporters have completely ignored this economic development angle. New Walmarts means additional local government revenue, which helps keep real estate tax rates down.
Just ask Roanoke County about that – the new Clearbrook Walmart has been open only a few weeks, and the county’s bean counters already are acting like they won the lottery. (Don’t ask the city of Roanoke about it, though).
There are other benefits to mountaintop removal, such as tourism.
When those power plants burn coal removed from the mountain tops, one byproduct is sulfurous clouds, which move northeast and fall to the ground as acid rain.
This has pretty much killed all the trout up there, which forces Yankee anglers to come down here to fly fish. That’s been a great boon for the recreational fishing industry, which employs thousands of former their mom-and-pop retail workers whose employers closed after Walmart opened.
So there you have it – all the benefits of mountaintop removal that critics have conspired to hide.
Mountaintop mining reduces heart attacks, diabetes, global warming, lung cancer and many highway-building hassles. It helps keep a lid on taxes and heating bills, but not necessarily sophistry.
And it spurs retail development, creates Walmart and fishing-guide jobs and forces Yankee anglers to spend their money here.
In a nutshell, most of the world’s problems could be solved if we got busy and removed more mountaintops, rather than continue to whine about this controversial process.
The reasoning above is rather complex. So just remember this slogan:
You’ve got to remove those mountains to save them.
Make sure you tell your lawmakers.