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Mr. Peabody's Coal Train's Done Hauled it Away

Of Writers And Their Books: "Mr. Peabody's Coal Train's Done Hauled it Away." Tom points out that the practice of mountaintop removal to extract coal is ravaging Eastern Kentucky. This column first appeared 15 July 2007.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: Big Harp, Little Harp, and Billie Potts

By Tom Chaney

"Mr. Peabody's Coal Train's Done Hauled it Away"
with apologies to John Prine

We Went to the Mountaintop But It Wasn't There -- how fitting a subtitle for the 2005 book from Wind Publications: Missing Mountains!

Two years ago in April 2005, a group of writers met on Lower Bad Creek near Hindman to view the results of mountaintop removal as a method of extracting coal from the Eastern Kentucky coal fields.

Missing Mountains is the result of that expedition which included such notable Kentucky writers as Bobbie Ann Mason, Wendell Berry, and Hart County poet Davis McCombs as well as many just starting out. None had a vendetta against the coal industry. Many of the writers are from families closely related to the coal-mining legacy. All were alarmed at the damage the newer process of getting at the coal is doing to Eastern Kentucky and to the headwaters of a much larger region.

Eric Reece, whose book Lost Mountain details the death of one mountain, discussed here some months ago, joins fourteen other writers in a "Statement on Mountaintop Removal."

"Yesterday we witnessed appalling destruction to the land. The practice of mountaintop removal to extract coal is ravaging Eastern Kentucky, and its effects are headed your way. Mountaintop removal represents economic and cultural violence which eventually reaches the whole state. . . . [It] is robbing our people of a better future by destroying our most abundant resources and the very ones we will need for building a viable future economy. Streams and groundwater, scenic beauty, diverse forests, and native plants are all being ruined forever by mountaintop removal.

" We realize that coal is an important part of our economy. However, coal can be mined in a more responsible way that respects the spirit of its people. Out of greed, we have forsaken moral, aesthetic, and spiritual values. We have traded the future of our children and grandchildren for cheap coal. The impact of these practices is sweeping across the entire state through the spread of air and especially water pollution. "

To see the extent of mountaintop removal, click here. Zoom out just a bit and look at the photographs of Hazard along Kentucky Highway 80 east of Hazard toward Hindman. From there and further toward the northeast you can see the devastation.

To the coal companies in search of cheap coal with steam shovel and bulldozer, forests and topsoil are simply problems which interfere with the extraction of coal. "Trees are just a maintenance problem," to quote one official.

One theme repeated throughout the book is that concern over the extraction of non-renewable resources such as the highly publicized attempts to get oil from the Alaskan tundra should also be focused on the situation in the Appalachian coal fields where the renewable resources of topsoil, clean water, and forest cover are swapped for the extraction of a non-renewable resource, coal, leaving behind a moonscape of barren waste.

Just last week Kentucky's governor called the state legislature into special session in part to provide a state subsidy to a coal company implicit for decades in the extraction of coal for share holder profit while leaving the state destroyed in its wake -- its workers suffering from black lung; a small severance tax spread too thin to repair the damage; and polluted streams flooding the valleys.

The House of Representatives rejected the governor's call.

One might hope that such a rejection would indicate a concern for the land and people of Kentucky. However, the leadership fell all over themselves in their assurances that the subsidy will come along later.

The state, in the person of its leaders, will continue sell its soul to the coal companies for a few jobs in an industry that prefers to use a few machines to get out coal with very little return to people who must work and live in a barren desert unless its citizens cry, "Enough!" and force our leaders into responsible stewardship of our land.

It is no wonder that Wendell Berry last week in a column in The Louisville Courier-Journal admitted that he could not make a choice in the last primary election for governor: not one candidate was on record in opposition to mountaintop removal!

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney -

This story was posted on 2016-03-06 06:50:38
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