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Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, The King Is Dead!

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Let me start with a note of both sadness and pride. As you all know, a great civil rights leader, Julian Bond, died recently. I've just discovered that in one of his last speeches at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington in May, he took up the issue of protesting America's wars, from Vietnam to the present, and in the process quoted from two TomDispatch pieces, Rory Fanning's "Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?" and Christian Appy's "'Honor' the Vietnam Veteran, Forget the War." That was an honor indeed.

With Laura Gottesdiener's latest trip to a fossil-fueled trouble spot in America (and Michael Klare's first guest introduction), TomDispatch 's summer is over. While they say that there's no rest for the weary, we are at least taking a brief break. Our next article will be published on Tuesday, September 8th, beginning what's sure to be an action-packed fall. In the meantime, in these last leisure days of summer -- as for me, I'll be editing the next Dispatch book, among other things -- take a gander at the various offerings at our donation page. Included among them, for instance, is Nick Turse's Tomorrow's Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. It's a book that's strikingly ahead of events and on target when it comes to Washington's next moves in its endless "war on terror." Of it, Noam Chomsky writes: "Nick Turse's investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving U.S. military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth." For a contribution of $100 (or more), Nick will personalize and sign his book for you, as by the way will both Rory Fanning and Christian Appy, whose books are also available on our donation page. I know I sound like a broken record, but your donations really do keep this website afloat! Have a good two weeks and let's hope the same for our wobbly world. See you in September. Tom]

On August 5th, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey banded together with 15 other state attorneys general to demand that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspend the implementation of new rules devised by the Obama administration to slow the pace of climate change. The regulations, announced just two days earlier, sought to reduce power plant emissions of carbon dioxide -- a major cause of global warming -- by 32% from 2005 levels by 2030. Because the rules are likely to fall most heavily on coal-fired power plants, which emit more carbon than other forms of electricity generation, states that produce and burn coal (mostly led by Republicans) are adamantly opposed to them. Because West Virginia is especially dependent on coal production, it has been selected by Republican leaders and industry lobbyists to lead the charge against the new rules.

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"These regulations, if allowed to proceed, will do serious harm to West Virginia and the U.S. economy," Morrisey said. "That is why we are taking quick action to bring this process to a halt."

Although pleading the case for West Virginia, which has suffered a sharp rise in unemployment due to the closing of many of its coal mines, Morrisey is clearly acting as the mouthpiece for a larger alliance of coal producers, power utilities, and Republican strategists who seek to sabotage any progress on climate change. As the New York Times revealed recently, this alliance (don't call it a conspiracy!) originated at a meeting of some 30 corporate lawyers, coal lobbyists, and Republican strategists at the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington last year.

"By the time Mr. Obama announced the regulations at the White House on [Aug. 3rd]," the Times reported, "the small group that had begun its work at the Chamber of Commerce had expanded into a vast network of lawyers and lobbyists ranging from state capitols to Capitol Hill, aided by Republican governors and congressional leaders. And their plan was to challenge Mr. Obama at every opportunity and take the fight against what, if enacted, would be one of his signature accomplishments to the Supreme Court."

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This process gained further momentum on August 13th, when Morrisey and 14 other state attorneys general petitioned a federal court in Washington to block action on the EPA rules, in the first of several expected legal challenges to the Obama administration measure.

As Laura Gottesdiener demonstrates so graphically in today's post, many West Virginians are indeed suffering from the decline of the coal industry. But if they allow themselves to be used as pawns in a struggle by King Coal, corporate lobbyists, and Republican hard-liners to fight progress on climate change, they are doing themselves (and the rest of us) an enormous disservice. Nothing can save the coal industry in the face of market forces -- especially the boom in natural gas extracted from shale deposits via fracking -- and the relentless advance of climate change. If Morrisey and his cohorts had West Virginia's true interests at heart, they would be petitioning for federal funds to turn the state into an innovation center for clean energy -- the only sure path to economic growth in a climate-ravaged world. In the meantime, let TomDispatch regular Gottesdiener take you on a tour of what's left of King Coal's once mighty domain. Michael Klare

Coal Dethroned
In Appalachia, the Coal Industry Is in Collapse, But the Mountains Aren't Coming Back
By Laura Gottesdiener

In Appalachia, explosions have leveled the mountain tops into perfect race tracks for Ryan Hensley's all-terrain vehicle (ATV). At least, that's how the 14-year-old sees the barren expanses of dirt that stretch for miles atop the hills surrounding his home in the former coal town of Whitesville, West Virginia.

"They're going to blast that one next," he says, pointing to a peak in the distance. He's referring to a process known as "mountain-top removal," in which coal companies use explosives to blast away hundreds of feet of rock in order to unearth underground seams of coal.

"And then it'll be just blank space," he adds. "Like the Taylor Swift song."

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Skinny and shirtless, Hensley looks no more than 11 or 12. His ribs and collarbones protrude from his taut skin. Dipping tobacco is tucked into his right cheek. He has a head of cropped blond curls that jog some memory of mine, but I can't quite figure out what it is. He's pointing at a peak named Coal River Mountain. These days, though, it's known to activists here as "the Last Mountain," as it's the only ridgeline in this area that's still largely intact.

We continue picking our way along a path on topless Kayford "Mountain," a few miles from Hensley's hometown (population 514, according to the 2010 census), as he resumes chronicling his adventures on ATVs. Nearby is the Seng Creek mine, still semi-active and one of Hensley's favorite racing spots. Active mines are always the best race tracks, he assures me, since you get the added thrill of outrunning security guards and watching explosions, which sound, he tells me, like hundreds of dump trucks emptying their loads all at once.

As we walk, we're careful to step over crevices known as "mine cracks" -- deep narrow drops into the earth most often formed by the caving in of old underground mines. Hensley stops to peer into one crack filled with broken Bud Lite bottles and I joke that it leads straight through to China.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)
 

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