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In CategoryCounter Coalture Coalition

Welcome to our new blog.  Please continue to check back for intriguing articles and productive discussions on the state of coal and its negative impact on the enviroment and our society.

What is the Counter Coalture Coalition?

Based in Southeastern Ohio, we are an Appalachian organization with the mission of raising awareness about the social impacts of coal mining, washing, burning and disposing upon the people who live near active mines and facilities.

There are many environmental groups that already address global warming, the effects of coal mining upon the environment, and the impact of fossil fuel consumption.

The primary focus of this site is social justice.

Coal in Appalachia: Consequences of industry

The relationship between Appalachia and coal extends well over one hundred years. Stretching from southern Quebec to Alabama, the Appalachian mountains of Eastern North America contain some of the richest coal fields in the world. Past efforts to develop these resources have resulted in controversy, bloodshed, and ecological disaster, while providing citizens with needed but dangerous employment.

Poisoned water and subsidence problems remain as a legacy to generations born one hundred years too late to enjoy any economic benefits, yet the coal produced here supplied a growing nation with energy and enabled a standard of living for others that most Americans today are unwilling to relinquish. In all fairness, in many cases our ancestors may have been ignorant of the long term consequences of their actions. But time has passed and modern generations are not ignorant.

The 1970s saw the exhaustion of some of the richest coal supplies and the emergence of environmental laws requiring reclamation and protection of the remaining, sensitive ecosystems. Coal mining declined in Appalachia. Coal companies abandoned the people and the mine sites, leaving behind health hazards, economic burdens and hardship that continue to this day.

People living in areas of Appalachia where mining occurred experience higher than average cancer rates, which drive up medical costs in under-served, rural communities.

Poisoned water supplies and some deforested areas can no longer support wildlife or sustainable economic activities and discourage the development of new employment opportunities. Previous mining operations made many acres of land unsuitable for building, farming or other productive uses, and subsidence problems continue as mines over one hundred years old collapse. In general, mined land is unstable and even reclaimed portions can only be used for pasture or hay fields.

With the steady decline in agriculture and loss of the traditional family farm, large areas of ‘pasture’ go unused and are vulnerable to infestation with multiflora rose, an invasive, non-native plant introduced by the federal government years ago as the ‘perfect’ fence.

Even if reclaimed areas were ideal for pasture, livestock cannot be raised without water. Some parts of the country are plagues with permanently poisoned water supplies that no one knows how to recover. For these and other reasons, the areas remain unattractive for future economic development.

Southeastern Ohio

For example, in Southeastern Ohio, deep mines have begun to subside under a large freshwater lake that is the primary water supply for several communities. No one can answer citizen questions regarding the effect this will have on the water quality and the fish and wildlife of the region. Most likely, no one knows.

Many people left the area for economic reasons after the mines closed up in the ‘70s. Others were unwilling or unable to relocate. Depressed property values meant that farmers and others who lived on the land could not replace their rural lifestyles by selling out and moving to another rural area. If former miners stayed and found employment, many took drastic cuts in pay, often working two or three minimum-wage jobs to make up for the lost mining job. Dwindling populations meant fewer local buyers for farm crops and livestock.

Others were assured that the coal supplies were exhausted and that the mineral rights, long separated from surface rights, and sold years ago, were meaningless. They relocated and joined locals in an effort to revitalize the area. Many in this group were seeking an affordable, rural lifestyle or recreational or retirement property. Some hardy souls, attracted by the challenge of reclamation, came as well. And these citizens were encouraged by some real signs of recovery.

Case in Point : Harrison and Carroll Counties

In Harrison County, a “Rails-to-trails’ grant enabled the conversion of abandoned railway lines into bike trails. An influx of Amish farmers, and state grants to encourage vineyard development in Ohio, spawned the hope of tourism and sustainable income. With the goal of preserving traditional Appalachian arts, a thriving textile guild emerged in Carroll County. The people’s hard work ethic produced many small and home-based businesses, and some of EBay’s earliest supporters emerged from these economically-challenged regions.

For over thirty years, the area seemed to be largely ignored by the coal industry. Many remaining reserves were controlled by an environmental group known as the Conservation Fund and environmental laws appeared to give residents some protection. Trusting in these realities, citizens whole-heartedly committed themselves to their dreams and their efforts. Unfortunately, time has proved this trust to be sadly misplaced.

At present, due to ever-increasing demands for energy, the instability of foreign sources of fuel, and changing political realities, coal mining has returned. Apparently the coal reserves that had been abandoned in the ‘70s were not completely exhausted, as had been implied to citizens. Thousands of tons of coal high in iron and sulfur remain. Once unprofitable, changes in technology, mining techniques and the economy now make these reserves an important source of energy, a sad surprise for many who will be adversely affected.

Refusing to sell mineral rights back to property owners, the Conservation Fund sold the coal rights back to coal companies. In Ohio, due to intense economic pressures from politicians from both parties and at all levels — including those who profess to be environementally-minded — have collaborated with efforts to increase mining activity. Past efforts by citizens to address concerns over imminent domain practices have been undermined by economic development legislation designed to fast-track annexation and the rezoning of property.  Previously untouched areas have been opened for exploitation, and economic necessity, political expediency and an ever-increasing demand for power have combined to create a formidable opponent for anyone desiring to protect their property or water rights.

“You are sitting on over seven billion dollars worth of coal,” one mining representative told a group of Carroll County farmers and property owners in response to voiced concerns about subsidence and water quality. “There has been mining all around you. Now, it is Carroll County’s turn. Sooner or later, someone’s going to mine here. That coal isn’t going to stay in the ground.”

Options for locals are limited. While many long-term residents, perhaps even a majority, welcome the return of coal mining to the region, others are troubled by the instability of an industry that has come and gone before. They remember the coal company bankruptcies of the 1970’s that left acres of land desolate, flaming gob piles that burned endlessly while producing toxic fumes, and tainted, copper colored water supplies unfit for use. Forgotten by many but not all are those who died in mining accidents or of black lung, the coal miner’s late life legacy.

‘Newcomers,’ defined as anyone not born in the region, are even more dismayed. Having made commitments of time, treasure and talent, they feel betrayed by the re-emergence of an industry they had been assured was dead and gone. As mining operations spread, neighbors turn against neighbor and in some cases husband against wife, as citizens argue about the necessity of a return to the past, what to do, or how to cope with the derailment of dreams. Those living near the mining sites are thrown happily under the bus by others who will profit most from the mining operations. Everyone wants energy, everyone wants jobs, everyone wants the country to be strong, but at whose expense? No one wants a toxic gob refuse pile in THEIR backyard!

Why don’t they move?

People do not choose to sell property during a real estate crisis. And even if buyers can be located, those who want to leave find that they are unable to replace their farms, homes, or small businesses with the money they might receive in a depressed real estate market.

Environmental groups, well aware of previous damage to the region’s watershed and ecosystems, are reluctant to dedicate limited resources here while there remain other, more pristine environments to preserve. Other groups do not wish to challenge the responsible coal producers that are making an effort to comply with regulations, or those that utilize previously surface-mined areas reclaiming land damaged by practices of the past.

What about local opposition?

Attorneys, local newspapers, small business owners and even realtors are reluctant to engage in any activity that might be seen by the coal companies, union members, or supportive locals as harmful to the coal industry. This means that citizens lack a voice and the legal representation they need. In some cases they cannot even find people who are willing to appraise their property. No one wants to “fight” a coal company and few, if any, are equipped with the financial resources to try. As a result, many keep their “anti-coal” views to themselves. Small town life can become very hard indeed if half the town believes those opposed to coal really want the town to remain impoverished. The oppressive dynamic, combined with a strong, traditional Appalachian work ethic that rejects economic dependency and sees any type of work as justified, produces a blend of anger, depression and paranoia that some of us have labled the coal culture or COALture.

We do not have any answers. Those most negatively affected are hard-working, middle-class Americans who have played by the rules, done all the right things, and overnight find their lives in shambles.

Mining spokesmen have acknowledged that by the time the coal companies abandon the area once again — in thirty to fifty years — there will be little land, if any, that has not been undermined by deep mines, stripped by surface miners or filled with tons of toxic mine refuse and gob. Already Harrison County, once home of the Silver Spade — the largest coal shovel in the world — has so much damage from the surface mines that the thousands of acres of altered land surface can be seem from space. Small wonder environmental groups are reluctant to invest time, talent or treasure defending these places.

What can we do?

But while the fight seems hopeless on all fronts, there are still some of us who believe we should make a stand.

Using newly-developed, non-violent principles from an Appalachian program called ‘Opposite Action,’ we opened this website and have planned an event to raise awareness of the social impact of mining in the Appalachian region. Our effort, called the COALture Garden Counteraction, asks citizens to plant trees, flowers, houseplants or other forms of vegetation in a united, peaceful protest against the negative impact of coal mining upon our planet. Not simply symbolic, this will provide a real opportunity to remediate part of the negative impact that mining and excessive energy consumption has upon the world. COALture Gardens will be dedicated on June 7th, 2009 and can be planted any time throughout the 2009 growing season.

Some remain anonymous

For those living in the hotbeds of controversy, there is a need to provide an anonymous option for participation. Usually a peaceful place, in the past Appalachia has erupted in large scale violence over one issue — COAL. It is an awarness of the violent struggles between miners and mine owners that cause us to utilize Opposite Action as a way to voice opposition and still maintain the peace. Anyone can participate and remain completely anonymous. I, myself, am using a pseudonym on this website, because in some places jobs have been lost due to anti-coal activities, businesses have been unofficially boycotted and people in our town have been threatened with physical harm. Please understand why some would choose to be anonymous.

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