Things of intrinsic worth
A POEM WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BY WALLACE MCRAE
Wallace McRae is a third-generation rancher, with a 30,000 acre cow-calf ranch in Forsyth, Mont. He has been a part of nearly every National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. He was the first cowboy poet to be awarded the National Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts. He is a recipient of the Montana Governor's Award for the Arts and has served on the National Council of the Arts.
Why should I care about electricity?
GUEST EDITORIAL BY BRYAN HANNEGAN PH.D., VICE PRESIDENT, ENVIRONMENT AND RENEWABLE ELECTRIC POWER RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Imagine a world without electricity: no computers or cell phones to stay in touch with your workplace and no television or video games for your kids. We can’t shop online, pay our bills, catch up on the news or even read a book on one of our electronic devices. Once the sun goes down, we retreat to our homes, lit by dim kerosene lamps or fireplaces. Productivity stops, and we seemingly return to the dark ages.
Electricity – produced from fossil, nuclear or renewable resources – is the backbone of a prosperous society. As electricity use increases, so does gross domestic product, a fundamental measure of economic health and prosperity. That is why developing countries such as China and India are building new power plants on a massive scale to ensure that there is sufficient electricity to continue their explosive economic growth for the foreseeable future.
Here in the United States, our economy is fueled by a mature power industry that has produced reliable and affordable electricity for generations. However, many of our existing power plants will face issues of aging, tighter limits on air and water emissions and potential new greenhouse gas controls. At the same time, we are integrating new, “smarter” elements into our electricity grid (such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles) and adding variable renewable energy resources like wind and solar into our energy mix. These actions will challenge us to maintain the reliability and affordability we have all come to depend upon to drive our economy, power our industries and support our standard of living.
Witnessing the "subversion of democracy of West Virginia"
GUEST EDITORIAL BY ANTRIM CASKEY, DIRECTOR OF THE JOURNALISM ADVOCACY PROJECT AT APPALACHIA WATCH
As a resident of the Coal River Valley in Raleigh County, West Virginia, I sat in a meeting with a handful of Appalachian Ambassadors at Congressman Nick Joe Rahall’s office on July 13, 2011 in Washington, DC. It was stunning to see the 18th-term Congressman stare in silence -- his only real reply -- as Bo Webb, Maria Gunnoe and Vernon Haltom described the horror and the heartbreak of living with the long-term effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. Armed with the latest Hendryx report, which cites the connection between increased chance of birth defects in newborns with living near mountaintop removal operations, these Power-Hillbillies put this latest evidence in front of a distracted Rahall and announced their demand for an immediate moratorium on mountaintop removal. Rahall had nothing to say other than trying to pass the buck, first to, Alpha Natural Resources (Massey Energy's new name), then Office of Surface Mining (OSM). What we witnessed in Representative Nick Joe Rahall's office is what Bobby Kennedy Jr calls the “subversion of democracy in the state of West Virginia,” and we stared back in silence, in anticipation, as Rep. Rahall, stone dead in the eyes, the dome of the Capitol filling the large window behind him, said nothing to us West Virginians demanding to be represented.
Love in the time of blasting
GUEST EDITORIAL BY JEFF BIGGERS, CO-FOUNDER OF THE COAL FREE FUTURE PROJECT THEATER TROUPE, AUTHOR OF "RECKONING AT EAGLE CREEK: THE SECRET LEGACY OF COAL IN THE HEARTLAND"
This is the scene when the stage lights, generated by coal-fired electricity, dim in New York City's neon theater district:
We are inside the home of Marie and Hovie, a young couple living in the mountain holler of Eagle Creek. With their family's 150-year-old homestead threatened by a planned strip-mining operation, Hovie, a strip-miner himself, is determined to move his pregnant wife out of the country. As the last remaining member on her family's ancestral property, Marie is torn by their agonizing fate and the dangerous health conditions in the mining area. When she speaks of her dream to raise their child—the 8th generation of her family to be born in Eagle Creek—Hovie divulges a deeply held secret.
"I'm sorry, baby, but the times have changed," he says, holding his wife by the shoulders. "We have no idea how much lead or arsenic has been in our water. What are we going to put in the baby's bottle? I'll tell you the truth. I know those coal slurry ponds leak. I built them."
It's a pivotal moment in the play, "Love in the Time of Blasting," a multimedia theater production loosely adapted from my memoir/history, Reckoning at Eagle Creek: The Secret Legacy of Coal in the Heartland.
After a ten-year literary odyssey to research and write an expose on the secret history of coal mining in the American heartland, the next step of taking the page to the stage was one of the hardest--and most exhilarating--acts in my literary career.
Reckoning at Eagle Creek is a family saga deeply rooted in the great American pastoral, an homage to the resiliency of my grandfather, a coal miner, and our family's centuries-old woodlands culture. After my family's 150-year-old homestead was strip-mined into oblivion in one of the most diverse forests and historic communities in the American heartland, I set out to examine the overlooked human and environmental costs of our nation's dirty energy policy over the past two centuries.
Strip-mining, as I learned in Eagle Creek, doesn't only strip the land; it strips our historical memory. As a cultural history, the book digs deep into the tangled roots of the coal industry beginning with the policies of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. It chronicles the removal of Native Americans, the hidden story of legally sanctioned black slavery in the land of Lincoln, and the epic mining wars for union recognition and workplace safety. It uncovers the devastating environmental consequences of industrial strip-mining.
As I began to adapt the history pages to the stage, the characters inevitably took on their own lives. A young couple faced with the demise of their home place—their future and their past—emerged at center stage of the great tragedy of strip-mining, mountaintop removal and reckless coal-mining disasters still playing out across the coalfields in 24 states in our country today.
In the end, I realized the play, like my memoir, was ultimately a love story—love for your family, love for the land and what you have to do to hold onto and defend your love.
Such a love story transcends the confines of the page or stage, of course. The rumble of mining explosives sounds far beyond the theatre walls for me. As the coal-fired lights rise in theaters across the country, the real tragedy continues in my southern Illinois coalfields and coal mining communities in Appalachia and the West.
And this is a tragedy that must end.
Crawling coal miner
GUEST EDITORIAL BY CHRISTINA HERRELL, A COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER AND A FREELANCE WRITER FROM SYLVESTER, W.VA.
I see that crawling coal miner everywhere.
I see him in black and white, and even pink. He's on the backs and side windows of countless cars and pickup trucks in the form of decals and bumper stickers. I see him on shirts and ball caps. I've seen him on a webpage layout for a social network.
I see him every day on my own skin, in coal-black ink over the veins of my inner right forearm. Every time I glance at my arm, every time I shower, put on makeup or brush my hair in the mirror, I see him crawling, always crawling, reminding me of my roots, of the coal that has been in my blood for generations.
He is there to treasure my dad and my brother, to honor those who have spent their lives digging coal to provide for their families and keep the lights on. He is there to memorialize the 29 wonderful and dedicated men who died at the Upper Big Branch explosion in West Virginia on April 5, 2010, a dreadful day that is etched in my mind and heart as surely as the crawling coal miner is etched on my body.
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