Our group has finally confirmed our roster for the trip – 14 Barnard and Columbia students will be traveling to Virginia in a little over a month! We are very excited to grow closer as a group and to learn more about mountaintop removal.
Recently, we have been learning about the history of legislation for surface mining practices. We focused closely on the 1971 congressional hearings where the West Virginia Congressman Hechler called for the abolition of surface mining due to its negative health impacts. While Hechler’s abolition goals were not met, SMCRA was passed in 1977, leading to more regulation in the surface mining industry.
Our most recent meeting focused on the different stakeholders in the issue, namely the coal industry, the miners’ union, the Appalachian abolition movement, and the environmental groups. We formed 4 groups to research a stakeholder and present an argument in a mock hearing. The discussion was very lively and informative, furthermore teaching the complexity of these regional issues. Here is a digested version of our discussion:
Coal industry: The coal industry is a fundamental part of the economies in Appalachia. In fact, many towns exist because of the jobs and prosperity brought to the community from the mines. Furthermore, during the height of an oil crisis from the formation of OPEC, surface mining brought the potential for energy independence. Finally, surface mining is considered safer for miners than underground mining.
Miners’ Union: With surface mining, coal miners were more disposable and offered fewer job opportunities. These miners were faced with a quickly mechanizing field, giving them inhibited job prospects. Furthermore, in the quest to bring competitive and cheap energy, the coal companies were underpaying their workers. With a shortage of jobs, these coal miners could not strike against the company because they would lose their jobs.
Appalachian Abolitionists: This was a grassroots movement by the local people who argued against the practices on a human and environmental health basis. This group was mocked by many of the “professionals” in the congressional hearing. Because the radical group was responsible for many instances of civil disobedience, the coal industry and miners’ union were not interested in negotiating with the abolitionists. As the details of SMCRA were being discussed, the abolitionists lost much of their public support and eventually dissolved.
Environmental Groups: Groups like the Sierra Club were brought into the hearing in order to give a more holistic understanding of the issues. Because environmentalism was finally gaining a public consciousness, these groups were worried about demanding too much and losing their efficacy in their lobbying efforts. The lack of cohesion between the abolitionists and these groups inhibited the strength of SMCRA.
We’ve been very busy planning fundraisers. Currently, we have a bake sale and a bagel sale underway (shout out to Nussbaum and Wu for the bagel donation). Many of the group members have been participating in dorm-storming, where we knock on students’ doors to let them know about our group and to ask for spare change. We also have been sending letters to family, friends, and local businesses asking for donations. Finally, we have an online giving site through GoFundMe. Please consider giving a donation to help us cover the transportation and board costs.