Jobs Vs. The Environment in Appalachia

posted by scott parkin

Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s forest wars of the Northwest, the false dichotomy that emerged out of that conflict was “jobs vs. the environment.” Loggers, mislead by industry, contended that they couldn’t make a living if environmentalists and government regulators restricted their ability to log old growth forest.

This of course was not true and many alternative sustainable logging practices existed, as well as other ways of making a living. The conflict became extremely fierce and thousands were arrested doing civil disobedience trying to protect the forests in northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Washington and other places, while violence erupted between loggers and enviros in these places as well (the most known example being in 1990’s Redwood Summer when a bomb was planted in Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney’s car.)


Now the meme of “jobs vs. the environment” has shifted from the Pacific Northwest to Appalachia. In the past couple of years, we’ve seen environmentally minded community members, environmentalists, miners and their families come into direct conflict over the issue of mountaintop removal. Industry has worked to frame the mountaintop removal issue around “jobs versus the environment.” They cast opponents of mountaintop removal as “out-of-towners” who are threatening their desperately needed jobs. They dismissed local concerns about the practice as coming from “unreasonable environmentalists” who were more concerned about trees than jobs.

The tensions are boiling over as public opinion nationally (and in West Virginia) is shifting to greater opposition to mountaintop removal.

Over the past few days, the Army Corp of Engineers (ACOE) have had regulatory hearings throughout Appalachia on mountaintop removal permits. The hearings have turned out both environmentalists and miners.

-Charleston, WV:Tensions were high in the hearings in Charleston, WV as miners continually attempted to provoke environmentalists and community members. Environmentalists reported being verbally harrassed during the meetings, ignored by police in requests for protection and followed out to their cars afterward by belligerent miners. Read Jeff Biggers great blog on it.
-Knoxville Tennessee:An evenly split crowd of over 450 people packed the Knoxville Convention Center to voice their opinions on mountaintop removal.
-Pikeville, KY: A “rowdy” crowd of miners, given the day off by their company filled the Eastern Ky Exposition Center by the thousands.

The irony is that mountaintop removal is a net economic loss for Appalachia. The Sierra Club has released a new report on the economics of MTR and conclude that surface mining has negative prospects for Appalachia. Read the white paper here and the full report here.