The Stories We Tell


 How the false claims of victory in the War on Coal are killing us all


by Mike Roselle

It has become fashionable of late to to describe every muttering of the masses and the pundits who wish to speak to them as a story. Wether this is a breakthrough in our ability to communicate or just another buzzword, like messaging, framing and narrative, and the other buzzwords that this now ubiquitous term has replaced is a question we might want to ask ourselves. We might also want to ask, while we are at it, just what is a story? And it is this question that, at least for me, poses the greatest problem.


Let me suggest that a story, since it could be true or false, or more often somewhere in between, is no more than a myth. A myth is a story with a purpose, and while it may contain truth, it is at its roots a means to and end. Accepting the myth as truth not only binds us to gather in a mission of unity of purpose, it separates us from those whose myths may reveal a different truth. Myths are the building blocks of nations and religion, but they can also lay the foundations of hatred and division. Neither good or bad, they can be used to promote harmony, used as a tool for mind control and groupthink, or to confuse and obfuscate.

©Catherine Dees/Climate Ground Zero
©Catherine Dees/Climate Ground Zero


Perhaps the most beguiling myth of this sort is the one which is being repeated by both the coal companies and some of the countries most influential environmental groups: that the coal industry is on the ropes, mountain top removal is winding down, and that this is the fault of the War on Coal being waged by these same environmental groups. It is a comforting myth, designed, among other things, to alarm the good citizens of West Virginia and to comfort the supporters of these organizations and garner more financial support. For both parties, the myth serves a central purpose; it hides the truth. The truth is that any downturn in coal mining on the Cumberland Plateau is due to market conditions, not clever internet campaigns and logos. Both parties know this, but there is no political advantage to either in acknowledging it.


The myth I find the most disturbing is one I’ve seen on some Sierra Club press releases recently, that mountain top removal is “winding down”. This latest claim was in response to a recent ruling in Federal Court that coal companies must stop releasing water from surface mines containing high levels of conductivity, a well understood measure of aquatic health. The claim is that this ruling will make it much more difficult to get new MTR valley fill permits. This remains to be seen, and I remain very skeptical as I have been in many of these courtrooms over the last ten years and the court process as of this time has stopped no new permits, although a few have been delayed. And I have seen first hand how the overburden can be hauled back on the mine site for disposal while the stream was still obliterated all the same when the upper watershed that fed these streams were blasted and lowered by as much as a thousand feet.


Ahh, progress.


©Catherine Dees/Climate Ground Zero
©Catherine Dees/Climate Ground Zero

So now I want to offer up my own myth. Mountain top removal has not slowed down. Divestment campaigns will not slow MTR down. Revising the Clean Water Act will not end MTR. The only approach to ending MTR is passing a law that forbids blasting. It is the dust and debris from blasting that posses the greets threat to our communities, to our streams and to our wildlife, not the water running off the mines. Coal companies will find a way around any conductivity rules just as they have every other regulation on the books. We will then be back in court without injunctive relief.


Residents on the Coal River and other watersheds of Central Appalachia know this. And we have come up with another plan, endorsed by many of the organizations long involved in this struggle. This is the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act, or the ACHE Act.http: ( Unlike any other piece of legislation proposed so far, this bill will end MTR. It calls for a moratorium on the issuing of any new blasting permits until a federal investigation can be conducted to study the health impacts of MTR on the people of Appalachia. And again, unlike other approaches that serve to unite our opposition and confuse our allies, this bill deals only with the Cumberland Plateau, which has some of the highest mortality rates in the nation and previous peer reviewed studies by many scientists and medical experts has shown conclusively that this is due to the dust produced by detonating two million pounds of high explosives each and every day except Sunday. We have broad bipartisan support and more sponsors in the House than the previous Clean Water Restoration Act, which has been languishing for over a decade due to broad opposition from many quarters. The CRWR Bill affects more than surface mines, so many other interests groups, including developers and even farmers are opposed to it. These same groups have no opposition to our bill, because does not affect them.


And the truth is that this bill can only pass if these big environmental groups get on board and support it. So far their support has been timid. This must change. The Coal River is the cradle of the climate crisis. Civil rights workers went to Montgomery, Selma and Birmingham not to achieve an easy victory, but rather because they understood that this was heart of the beast. They endured violence and hatred, but carried on in the belief that if Jim Crow could not be defeated here, he could not be defeated in New York, Indiana, Oregon or anywhere where he held power. A win here would of course not end the crisis. But it would be a symbolic victory that could lead the way, a rising tide to lift all boats. And this is neither a new or novel strategy. Indeed it was the one agreed to ten years ago by these same groups. Rather than roll up their tents and leave declaring victory, these groups should return to Appalachia and double down and win one for a change. It would not only bolster their  image, it would provide some real relief for the communities that are being destroyed, and the people who are being relocated, and the soil that is being poisoned.


Stories that hide the truth that coal is still King do a disservice to us all. At best they are self serving and at worst it actually makes our job here in West Virginia much harder.  It is time to admit that our efforts as of yet have not produced the results we claim, and get back to the hard dirty work of ending the most destructive mining industry in the US before its too late. I shouldn’t have to remind anyone that we are running out of time. And that is the rest of the story.


Fast For The Mountains


Climate Ground Zero is at the West Virginia State Capitol outside Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office on day 2 of the Fast for the Mountains.  Roland Micklem, 85, Mike Roselle, 59, Shenna Fortner, 33, and Vincent Eirene are fasting to stop mountaintop removal.  How can you help?  Show your support and join the effort to pass a moratorium on blasting mountaintops.

See you at the Capitol!


The Myth of Broad-based Movements by Lorna Salzman


The Myth of Broad-based Movements
by Lorna Salzman

 The April 9th spring chorus in Union Square was not melodious songbirds but a bunch of squawking crows jostling for attention and hoping to devour the entrails of Israel and the real issues be damned. What could be the point of this rally and all those that preceded it and those that will follow? “Anti-war” is the cry of the resistance but this hides a multitude of disparate causes and identity groups, each with a tiny constituency and little political currency.
Presumably all the disadvantaged and wretched of the American earth – minorities, immigrants, jobless, women, the poor, workers – will come together in a Millennium Development Goal in which all of them will be winners in an as-yet uncharacterized game with no rules and no goals. How you play the game is their motto. Those who still grip these fantasies have little to contribute to real-world problems beyond a shared resentment of just about everything American and Israeli, and even there the object of their resentment is rarely clear nor are the objectives necessarily congruent. There is just the usual laundry list compiled to please each identity group, comprised mostly of mismatched socks.
As just one example: there is a backlash against higher energy prices by the poor and their advocates, whereas the knowledgeable environmentalists know full well that they should and must go up, as part of a sane energy policy that must include stringent efficiency standards, full cost pricing for energy and goods and an end to federal subsidies and tax breaks for all sectors of the economy, not just fossil fuels.
Unions and workers, like corporations, don’t want higher energy prices because they raise the cost of goods and reduce consumer spending, thus impacting on economic growth, the basis for consumer society and capitalism. The issue of growth is the single largest stumbling block to developing a “broad based” movement for change, but it is stubbornly resisted by nearly everyone, especially those promoting “green” economies and technologies. These now include the leading climate change, which has effectively abandoned citizen action so as to curry favor with big business for whom the “no-growth” paradigm is anathema.
Thus, the chance that social justice activists will find agreement with environmentalists is remote, and this does not even consider the side-lining of environmental emergencies by smaller side issues like Israel and the Palestinians. Despite the long history of failed coalitions, hope springs eternal even as rigorous thinking is dismissed as the province of “elites”. Environmentalism gets the short end of the stick as always, as their representative is allotted his three minutes at the podium to shout “No nukes”.
There is no such thing as “natural allies”, there never was, and there never will be. The movement and the future will be defined only by the movement that grasps ecological reality, sticks to a firm set of principles, articulates how these subsume all the other social and economic issues, rejects corporate cant, eschews false solutions and dilatory actions, and designs a substitute economy that starts with relocalization and other ecological precepts and rebuilds society on top of these. In brief, the only movement capable of doing this is anenvironmental movement modelled on the one that was born in the 1970s.
A recapitulation of its accomplishments is long overdue, not least because the only thing most people see today are the privileged establishment groups in Washington who long ago abandoned their grassroots constituents in favor of status and access to decision-makers and congress. These groups regard their work as a profession, not a cause, and are the mirror image of corporations. Where was there a group that was able to stop the Wall St. and bank bail-outs or force withdrawal from Iraq orAfghanistan or achieve decent universal health care or loosen the corporate grip on congress? Where was there a group or movement to stop Congress and Obama from decimating urgent social, health, education and transportation initiatives? And will there be one ready to eject Obama and his congressional lackies in 2012?
The peace movement has never prevented wars. Unions and workers have lost out to corporations. Liberals have rejected the kind of radical reform needed as witness their antagonism to Ralph Nader . And the Democratic Party retains its death grip on liberals only because of its more progressive stance on things like racial discriminationm abortion and women’s and gay rights.
But the environmental movement has strong accomplishments to its credit, in legislation, regulatory reform, habitat protection, worker safety, public health. It led to the creation of local and state environmental agencies, local laws and enforcement of federal standards. It busted a gut in organizing, educating,, lobbying, pressuring, demonstrating, resisting, against huge odds. And for the most part it succeeded and left us their legacy. For the short period of the 1970s decade it accomplished monumental things, while enduring attacks from the left and social justice activists who even today cannot see that environmentalism is a social justice movement par excellence and that it poses the greatest threat to capitalism extant —a realization that corporations and government came to long ago. And it did this without a leftist in its ranks, except for the anti-nuclear activists.
No other movement except civil rights has come close to this record of achievement, yet today the left and the greens are abandoning it, claiming that the deck is stacked against it (it always was). It is thus indefensible that climate activists like declare the game lost and are moving to an undefined arena with no declared allies, no goals, and no chance of success. They do not understand that a movement is not built by preaching only to the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged. While the “permanent government” may still call the shots, it still needs the legitimization from important sectors of society, not just business. It needs the media, the political pundits, the intellectual elites, the academics, economists, attorneys, etc.
The corollary is that if there is an influential (not necessarily large) dissenting group, a hole can be punched in the best laid plans. The anti-nuclear power movement is an example and a near-example was the opposition to cap and trade (aided though by Republicans for their own reasons). The anti-coal groups in Appalachia may with luck and perseverance step to the front of a new movement. As for the left, it looks for excuses for its irrelevance and ineptness at educating and organizing the general public (which it looks at with scorn anyway); it is now inventing rationalizations for abandoning the political process on the most urgent issue humanity has ever faced, and for abandoning all pretenses at citizenship. In this sense it plays into the hands of its adversaries by building a Tower of Babel that lacks form and ideological cement. Michael Berube is not far off the mark in postulating that the left actually welcomes defeat. So far they haven’t proven him wrong.
The Myth of Broad-based Movements by Lorna Salzman
April 13, 2011