Monday, January 22, 2007

Good Post on Coal Mining at Firedoglake

Of and on, I've been reading a book by Jeff Goodell called Big Coal. Coal, of course, has a big problem that is far from being solved when it comes to pollution and Global Warming: it's dirty. There's talk about carbon sequestration but it's not certain how well that's going to work or what percentage of carbon dioxide will be pulled out of burning coal. There's also talk of using coal to create a hydrogen economy but that has a number of hurdles to cross before it becomes reality. For one thing, using coal to create hydrogen is still only a stopgap measure in the long run. Then there's the problem that a hydrogen fuel tank may be more of a problem than it's worth except for large vessels such as boats or perhaps trains. And these are only a few of the issues with coal, some of which may be solved and others maybe not.

Despite the problems with coal, the reality is that there will be coal mining for some time to come. And there's an economic and human side to the story. Christy Hardin Smith of Firedoglake lives in West Virginia and has a personal perspective on coal; here's a short excerpt:
...the opportunity to earn a good wage, with the risks laid flat out whan an individual makes the decision to work for a particular company, isn't some exercise in fraud (for the most part, although there is certainly an argument to be made where a particular company' shoddy safety record comes into play on occasion), but simply a matter of how much money one is willing to take in exchange for how much risk to one's life in the process. Not nearly that cut and dried, though, in the real world as it might be argued in the abstract, as anyone who knows any person who works in the mining indiustry can tell you — be it management or miner alike.

But so much of our state's history and culture — including the immigrants who swarmed here to work the mines from Scotland, Ireland and Italy, among many others — that form so much of the bedrock of who we are still today, comes from the mines and the folks who worked them.

I am a very proud mountaineer, but I also know that this legacy of strength, of tenacity in the face of so much adversity and tragedy, was bought and paid for with so many lives in the name of expediency and cutting corners for profits. Accidents happen, certainly, and they are unavoidable in an industry as dangerous as mining has always been and will continue to be, but there are a lot of questions that need to be asked and answered about the sheer number of mining disasters that my state has undergone — along with a whole ot of other states — in the past few years as prices for energy have skyrocketed and the push for profits has led to some ricky decisionmaking by some folks who ought to know better.

Give Smith's post a read and follow a couple of the links.

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