by Michael Fortune
It’s remarkable the face-to-face discussion and mingling of adversaries I saw on this field trip. Coal mine owners, employees, strip mining protesters and community organizers; were all mixed in with a bus load of reporters, as well as professors of forestry, biology, Appalachian studies . . . .. This close contact led to a good exchange of experiences. Adversaries in usual life had a chance to listen to many sides of a story . . . . how strip mining benefited their lives, corrupted others.
At the company sponsored tour, at a hunting cabin with a panoramic view of a land turned upside down, Andrew Jordan, president of the strip mining company, calmly answered dozens of questions about his operation. Bill Rainey and Jason Bostic, president and VP of the West Virginia Coal Association, were wary and a bit defensive in the first half hour that we were there, but relaxed as they conveyed the meaning of coal mining – the only activity that has brought prosperity to their workers and the community.
The activists opposed to strip mining included former workers and local folks like Larry Gibson, “Keeper of the Mountain,” and Judy Bonds, of Coal River Mountain Watch. They have a park that has an even more panoramic view of an active strip mine, where a mountain top is now being blasted and shoveled aside. The stripped land extends more than a mile in three directions.
This view from the inside was likely made possible by the presence of two professors from Virginia Tech, Jim Berger and Carl Zipper, who accompanied us. Berger has done field investigations on reclamation practices that do give the land a chance to regrow a forest over 20 years . . . . And the many sad examples of practices that didn’t work. Since he has worked with mine owners, Berger’s presence lent an air of authority to the trip that gave us an opening into the thinking of those who strip the land for coal.