North Carolina’s own Billy Edd Wheeler, a poet and songwriter, once penned a song, “Coal Tattoo,” about the hardships of life in the West Virginia coal fields where he grew up. It spoke of a miner’s blue mark on the side of his head, “left by the number nine coal.”
The deadly hazards of coal mining for those who work in the mountains are well-known, and so are the hazards for everyone else when coal waste is dumped into streams.
The problem is more acute when strip mining or mountaintop removal is in place, wherein the tops of mountains are simply scraped away by mining companies to facilitate the removal of coal. That’s as opposed to conventional mining, wherein the tops of the mountains are left in place and the coal is taken out through tunnels. With mountaintop removal, the waste is all the greater, and the mining companies are looking for the cheapest and simplest way of disposal. Hence the dumping in streams.
A preposterous bill pushed mostly by Republicans in the U.S. House would allow such dumping. During a debate, one opponent raised a jar of filthy water and said it had come out of the taps in homes in Appalachia where coal waste has fouled water.
Amazingly, the House passed the measure, which would prevent the Obama administration from issuing an order to prohibit the dumping. Advocates claim it’s a jobs bill. It’s not. It is a dangerous bill. And to pass legislation specifically aimed at stopping a president from doing his duty through the power of a legitimate order represents interference with the powers of the executive branch. We can only hope that the White House finds some way around this should it become law.
Some North Carolina representatives, including Republican Reps. Renee Ellmers of the 2nd District and George Holding of the 13th District in the Triangle, took the side of coal-mining companies that want the easy way to get rid of waste from strip mining. Reps. David Price of the 4th and G.K. Butterfield of the 1st, both Democrats, voted against this reprehensible measure.
Coming not long after the ever-expanding coal ash uproar involving Duke Energy’s inadequate treatment of the ash and the problems in the Dan River, it’s astounding that any North Carolina member of Congress could go along with the mining waste bill.
Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, characterize attempts to ban the dumping as a “war on coal” and say what they’re doing is “pro-growth.” Good grief. Will they stand by that pro-growth position if the waterways of the mountains of Appalachia, including those in North Carolina, are fouled and economies related to tourism are wounded? “War on common sense” is more like it.