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Mountaintop Mining, Politics and Lawsuits

By       Message Douglas C. Smyth       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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Recently, the EPA, under Obama, has permitted all but six of 48 mountaintop coal projects before it, despite widespread fears that large-scale environmental damage will ensue. Mountaintop removal dumps huge amounts of rock into local streams, which then leach and pollute the groundwater with chemicals like selenium and arsenic; that in turn makes a lot of people sick; the diversion of streams also dries up peoples' wells.

On the other hand, Congressman Rick Boucher from coal country in Virginia claims that people really would prefer Congress to regulate the coal industry; he's worked long and hard to insure that coal is well represented in negotiations to write a global warming bill. He's gotten Chairman Waxman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to reduce the CO2 emissions reductions mandate from 20% to 14% by 2020. That's why "people," meaning coal industry owners, prefer Congress to regulate: Boucher and his coal country colleagues have received large infusions of campaign funds from them for just that reason.

It looks from here, however, that neither EPA nor Congress will really represent the people's interests; fossil fuel interests unduly influence them both. In the case of mountaintop removal the best solution is to insure that the mine company pays ALL costs, including all costs to the environment and all documented costs to the people living in it.

Here's an issue where a good class action lawyer could make a fortune, win fair settlements for the people injured, and bankrupt any coal company that takes down a mountain.

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So, why hasn't this happened? Why do people depend on a corrupted EPA to fix it for them? Or a corrupted Congress? In both cases there has been a concerted attempt to regulate these mines, but to regulate them in favor of the coalmine owners.

Congressman Boucher from Virginia has no real concern about the environment; all he cares about is his local coal industry, so he's worked "tirelessly" to represent the industry's interests. On the global warming bill, he's worked hardest to reduce the mandated reduction in greenhouse gases and hopes to cut the mandate even further. It doesn't matter that almost everyone now knows that climate change is driven by a higher and higher concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, driven in turn by more consumption of fossil fuels--like coal--and that accumulation of CO2 is increasing faster than almost all projections. What matters to Boucher's constituents, the coal companies, are company profits. And note: with mountaintop mining thousands of jobs have been eliminated; men mine with bulldozers, not pick and shovel, or pneumatic drill. The process is much cheaper than underground mining, or "more efficient," since few miners need be employed, but it causes major environmental damage--and damage to downstream residents.

Meanwhile, the White House is not paying attention, or thinks it's not a good political issue in which to get entangled. Congressman Boucher's votes, and those of other regional Democrats' may be crucial for 'more important things.' That's how politics works, unfortunately.

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So, the best strategy for environmentalists would be environmental damage lawsuits; suits would short-circuit the interference of political influence and insure that coal companies at least pay the costs they are incurring, which would make many of their ventures unprofitable. The basis for a lawsuit would be simple: people and the environment are both being damaged to enable corporations to earn higher profits. Wouldn't this be the kind of case for which a class action lawyer could win fame and fortune? One really successful case could stop mountaintop removal cold, increase the cost of coal, and thereby increase the competitiveness of renewable energy sources. There is more than one way to achieve a green energy future.

If Congress and the President can't act, maybe trial lawyers can.

 

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I am a writer and retired college teacher. I taught college courses in Economics and Political Science (I've a Ph.D) and I've written as a free-lancer for various publications.

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