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    Greg and Beth

    the political and personal musings of two
    mountaineers living in west-central Florida
     
    My Post at the Mountainlair Blog Comment
    Gregory Morris, 9/5/07 8:15:04 pm
    Regarding the WVU v. Marshall, which was given the name "Friends of Coal Bowl", by their sponsors, the powerful energy lobby.


    Well, I agree with you that "Friends of Coal Bowl" is a dumb name for a football game. I understand the money behind that name, and it pisses me off that this kind of politics is adulterating my beloved sport on a day when we should be celebrating the utter destruction of Marshall.

    However, don't be so hard on the coal industry. I dearly love the last few clean streams and rivers in the state, and I would literally cry if they were turned yellow and lifeless. However, there have been strict regulations for years on how coal operations have to protect the environment. They have high tech methods for treating water supplies. Coal executives have gone to jail for cutting corners. Most of the destruction we see across the state was caused many years before the regulations were in place. Most acid mine drainage comes from century-old underground mines that were never properly sealed. Modern strip mines must legally be reclaimed in an environmentally friendly manner. You'd be surprised how beautiful and useful some reclaimed strip mines are. In fact, there are places that you would never guess used to be huge strip operations.

    My family has a long history working in the mines, just as yours do. You cannot discount their contribution to the wealth of our nation. Our nation is still one that runs on coal, regardless of what we would like to see. West Virginia needs to take a leading role in development of sustainable energy in the coming years, but we can't demonize the coal industry when they are supplying the power that we consumers demand.

    Sure, there are cleaner ways to do things. If we offer financial incentives (by way of tax breaks) to the coal companies to be cleaner and safer, I have no doubt they'll get better. In recent years however, the trend has been to tax them to the breaking point, which encourages them to cut corners and worry more about the bottom line than the environment.

    [Comments are closed after a month.]

    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Bethany Morris, 9/5/07 9:07:44 pm
    The laws were changed in 1974! People still aren't convinced that the mines are following the laws set out more than 30 years ago. A few streams and rivers are yellow. Mine drainage caused this before 1974 and many mines from before that year still exist in some form or another. In my opinion it's just people focusing on the negatives and forgetting all the positive things coal has done for the state. Keep it the Friends of Coal Bowl and let us not forget what helped make WV's economy grow for generations.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Matt D. in Detroit!, 9/7/07 7:39:13 pm
    While coal has important historical and cultural value for West Virginians, it doesn;t have much positive economic benefit. Our reliance on coal has been nothing but a catalyst for poverty. While the state government keeps giving kickbacks and tax breaks to outside corporations the people are lacking adequate healthcare, education, and good paying jobs.

    Coal companies are no better than WalMart. They come to town, rape the land, turn it into a strip mall or a golf course and get out of town with their profits. They don;t reinvest the money into the state and the miners who had jobs are back at home looking for work. Did you also know that coal companies aren;t required by law to reclaim the site until EVERY piece of their machinery has been removed?

    Until we can rid the state of these absentee land ownership problems there is no benefit to the state of West Virginia to extract another gram of coal from our land. Coal was important, it built the nation, but the people of West Virginia, while proud, have been hoodwinked and blinded by pride.

    Friends of Coal are not friends of West Virginia.

    Hey Greg shoot me an email sometime.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    joe, 9/9/07 7:28:26 pm
    good post, greg, but you say nothing about mountaintop removal.

    true, west virginia has relied on the coal industry, and that has fueled most of the early infrastructure growth for us, but were not going to get more coal. once it's gone, it's gone. naming a game after a virtually non-renewable resource (unless there is a major scientific breakthrough) is stupid, and im glad our dominance has made the game rather insignificant. point is, coal has brought in good things, but even with environmental regulations, it is still drastically altering the ecology and landscape of our land.

    and im not sure where that leaves whatever friggin point i was trying to make.
    go mountaineers!
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Gregory Morris, 9/10/07 1:55:44 pm
    Matt. Haven't heard from you in a while!

    I'll have to disagree on a few points that you make. First of all, regarding employment, the coal industry is actually losing more miners to retirement than they are able to hire. It is hard to hire a miner under the age of 50 anymore. If you are an experienced coal miner, then you are pretty much guaranteed a job, if you want one. There may not be an operating mine in your town, but somewhere in the state, there is a mine that will hire you.

    As for the lack of economic benefit, it will indeed cease to be a benefit when the coal runs out. That is why I advocate exploring new sources of energy. However, it isn't going to run out for a LONG time. The thing is, the state has always been real friendly to the coal business, but the relationship isn't quite as one-way as you think. The coal industry pays a LOT of taxes into the state. Those taxes are raised here and there every few years.

    I agree there is room for improvement in how we keep the land healthy. My biggest suggestion is to pass legislation that gives considerable tax breaks to mining companies that voluntarily adhere to extremely strict environmental regulations. This may sound like a strange idea... think about it though. Coal mining isn't going to stop any time soon. The country still needs coal. That's a fact that neither you nor I will dispute. Raising taxes, or imposing more regulations won't hurt the coal companies, because they'll just pass the new costs along to us, the energy consumers. If we give them economic incentive to be cleaner, then the environment will benefit without costing Americans more money to keep their lights on.

    Coal is a dead-end industry, but for now we have to live with it. I dislike mountaintop removal as much as the you, but until we offer the coal industry an incentive to find better ways to get at the coal, we're stuck with that too. Until we can displace coal with better alternatives, we need to implement smart policy regarding the environment.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Nick, 9/10/07 5:35:20 pm
    "Sure, there are cleaner ways to do things. If we offer financial incentives (by way of tax breaks) to the coal companies to be cleaner and safer, I have no doubt they'll get better."
    The problem with this is not that we need an incentive to not pollute, but a much more aggressive disincentive to pollute. There is a difference. Tax breaks for not polluting artificially decrease the cost of mining coal. If we want West Virginia (and the country) to other sources of energy, we need to stop artificially decreasing the cost of producing them. Tax breaks do just this. A lower cost for coal, or oil, or whatever, means relatively higher costs for other alternatives. It is very expensive (now) to produce mass solar energy, etc. (especially when compared to coal, oil and gas), socially expensive to produce nuclear or wind energy. When the relative costs among the alternatives become closer to equality, it becomes more beneficial to firms to invest larger amounts of money into these alternatives. Right now, tax breaks would only prolong the cheapness, and therefore, dominance of coal (and other fossil fuel energies which are relatively inexpensive to extract).
    Of course, my ultimate answer is to actually protect individual property rights. This means (as much as we all hate trial lawyers) that all large class-action lawsuits for pollution of private property (and public property) should be allowed, although not necessarily encouraged; I would prefer no encouragement one way or another by the government. Right now, if a coal company pollutes, and the owner goes to jail, fined or whatever, this fine usually goes into a general government fund. Instead it should go directly to the consituency affected. This means anyone whose property was polluted and anyone who became sick as a direct result of this pollution (if state property, like a state park, public river, etc. then the fine can go to a general fund of some kind). The incentive structure is all messed up, not only in terms of future development of other energy sources, but in terms of who has an incentive to take on a polluting coal company.

    PS-Anyone against mountaintop removal, I want to squirt you in the eye (probably just with water, but if I'm feeling really mean, maybe with lemon juice). If that mountain is private property and legitimately removed by the owner of the property, it's not your damned property! If the mountaintop removal pollutes your property, fine. Make them pay you large sums of money, boycott them, even protect your property with force of arms. If, though, they didn't harm your property, get over it. I'm all for pretty views. I like looking at mountains, streams, etc. I like looking at nice-looking old houses, but I have no right to tell someone they can't tear down that house because when I drive by, I like the way it looks.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Nick, 9/10/07 5:55:04 pm
    PPS- I don't care who sponsors the game. WVU should not be playing Marshall. They have not beaten us. Ever. Sure, every now and then, they can put up a good fight, but that the state government forced them to play each other. That's ridiculous (and I mean the root definition of ridiculous: worthy or derserving of ridicule). From a libertarian standpoint, that is a forced contract, made under duress from a third party. Absurd. Offensive.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Gregory Morris, 9/11/07 6:23:22 am
    I agree that decreasing taxes on the coal industry could, theoretically, artificially deflate the cost of mining coal. But that isn't what I was suggesting. They don't get that for free. They have to spend more to design and deploy cleaner ways of mining and utilizing coal. That costs money. In the end, I don't think their costs would go down... in fact, in the short term their costs (even with tax breaks) would almost certainly increase. The point is, from an economic standpoint, you are correct... lower coal costs will decrease the demand (and increase the cost) for alternative fuels. I never proposed that. Coal will be cheaper than any of the alternatives until the supply of coal decreases substantially. I don't think that will happen for a long time. So why not try and make our use of coal cleaner now?

    I do agree with you about adversely affected constituents being directly compensated. Some people consider the coal executive serving jail time as justice... but justice only really occurs when the victims are compensated as well.
    Re: My Post at the Mountainlair Blog
    Gregory Morris, 9/11/07 1:00:43 pm
    PS - Nick, you are being generous when you say "every now and then". How about one game in 1997, and half a game last weekend.

    We shouldn't be playing them because they are not worthy of our schedule (which includes serious teams like Louisville, Cincinnati, USF and Rutgers.) If anything, we should play them in our preseason-warm-up-slap-around-a-1AA-school-game, and just replace whatever 1AA team with Marshall.

    At least the rest of the games will be in Morgantown now.
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