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Ripping Down Mountains for a Dime

Updated on February 28, 2012
Mountaintop removal explosive blast in Eunice, W.V. 7 July 2004.
Mountaintop removal explosive blast in Eunice, W.V. 7 July 2004. | Source

Ripping down mountains to get a bit of coal is like cutting down tress to get a few eggs from a nest. In short, it is insane. Republicans know this; they just, for whatever reason, don’t care. Maybe they or someone they know or both will get rich from it.

At any rate, in the absence of truth, their efforts can only rely upon irrational emotional appeals, propaganda, pure fiction, and censorship of opposition voices. No better example of this can be found than the recent hearing on the Stream Buffer Zone Rule in the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, held on September 26. The biased title of the hearing, “Jobs at Risk: Community Impacts of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Rewrite the Stream Buffer Zone Rule,” is a pretty good indication of the tone and purpose of the hearing.

And if the title wasn’t enough, the composition of the committee and group of witnesses was a further indicator. Only two representatives were on the committee—both pro-coal Republicans—and eight of the ten witnesses were pro-coal politicians or members of the industry. The remaining two witnesses were community members speaking on behalf of the people who are affected by the regulations. No one from any environmental organization was present and no Democrat was sitting on the committee.


The National Wilderness Institute's supposed website doesn't exist. The only information I found about it was here. Members of the organization include Larry 'lewd conduct' Craig and Richard Pombo, one of the most anti-environmental congressman of the past two decades.


To whip up some environmental street cred, Representative Doug Lamborn, to start the hearing, invoked a phony environmental manifesto, the “American Conservation Ethic" (I can not find the document anywhere anymore), written by a phony environmental organization, the National Wilderness Institute (NWI). While it sounds legitimate, the NWI is simply a group of environmentally hostile conservative politicians; and their ridiculous conservation ethic is just a “wise-use” manifesto (AKA exploit nature as much as you can get away with).

In his opening statement, Mr. Lamborn mentioned that the first principle of the "American Conservation Ethic" is that “People are the most important resource” and it is something that “we should all take to heart.” Okay, Mr. Lamborn, you first. And you can start by listening to the people at the hearing who will actually be affected by the regulations, rather than giving preferential treatment to the coal executives who only stand to lose money. You could also have invited some actual workers, who are supposedly going to lose their jobs. Perhaps you could address some of the 16 peer-reviewed scientific stuidies Bo Webb offered that demonstrate the health consequences to the people who live beneath the mountain killers.

Republican Fairy Tales

The testimony and comments offered by the pro-coal witnesses and committee members were all essentially the same: accusations that the Obama administration is rewriting rules, criticisms of overstepping executive authority, and of course that the regulations will cost bazillions of jobs. Pretty much the first set of talking points that initiates anything Republicans say about anything these days. Of course it is all pure fiction.

The Stream Buffer Zone Rule (SBZR) has been around since Reagan. It was in fact recently rewritten, just not by Obama. Bush rewrote it just before leaving office, in a way that afforded fewer protections to the environment. Obama, simply wants to take it back to be more in line with the original rule.

Representative Bill Johnson offered a wonderful story in his opening statement. One in which the Obama administration stymied by the courts went ‘shopping’ for an environmental organization to file a lawsuit against the rule. “Collusion” was the way Mr. Johnson characterized it. In bizarro Republican world this story makes perfect sense, since time has no meaning for them. For the rest of us, though, the story falls apart since the environmental organization lawsuits came well before the administration received that court opinion.

To support their claims about job losses, references were made to an unpublished report, prepared by a fired contractor, written about a rule that isn’t even finalized. Will jobs be lost? Maybe, but there isn’t any evidence either way, and even if there were, a cost-only analyses is completely useless (though Republicans still seem to love them).

Bo Webb

Mr. Webb, a West Virginian, has been fighting for his community for a decade. In his testimony (written submission here) he offered 16 peer-reviewed articles about the health consequences of mountaintop removal mining.


Then finally at the end of the hearing, two community members spoke out about the consequences that blowing up mountains have on their communities. Testimony from actual community members would seem to hold special value and indeed it was the only testimony which received applauase form the assembly. Yet despite virtually every other witness having been asked a question, not a single question was asked of the two community advocates. And when Bo Webb asked to respond to something another panel member had said, Chairman Lamborn suddenly ended the hearing, saying, “I'm afraid our times up”

To add even further insult to the two community members, the committee then published a press release for the hearing which summarized the testimony of most of the witnesses, but completely ignored the comments of the two community advocates.

The whole spectacle was shameful. The fact that no Democrat bothered to show up to be an oppositional voice is equally shameful.


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