These pictures are of West Virginia, a place I lived for a while, where I drank some fine mountain whiskey and played some good gut-bucket music long into the night with girls who wore overalls without irony or shame, God bless 'em.
West Virginia is a poor state and it doesn't have much, but what it does have is beauty.
Beauty and coal.
Which is why the Bush administration has given us a Labor Day present, dumped last Friday before a three-day weekend. They're giving their blessing to a type of strip mining called mountaintop removal and its as ugly and destructive as the name implies. Instead of digging mines into a mountain and extracting coal, this technique allows the coal companies to blast off the tops of mountains and dump the rubble into valleys and streams.
Gee, thanks, President Bush, that's swell!
Mountaintop removal has been used for 20 years under a cloud of legal and regulatory confusion but under the leadership of President Bush this new rule would encourage coal companies to expand the practice providing that mine operators "minimize" the debris and cause "the least environmental harm."
Given the history of the coal industry's loving care for mountain communities, I'm sure they'll do their gosh darn best.
According to the New York Times, "The regulation is the culmination of six and a half years of work by the administration to make it easier for mining companies ... " They don't say how much money the coal industry gave to Bush campaign but I'll guess it was enough to make a hooker blanch.
Just to show how little the industry gives a fuck, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, Luke Popovich, told the Times that unless mine owners were allowed to dump mine waste in streams and valleys it would be impossible to make a buck which makes Jesus weep in sympathy for them, I'm sure.
And as most of us are writers here, I thought you'd like to see some wonderful euphemistic language the coal companies use to describe the poisonous sludge they dump in those valleys and streams. They call it "overburden." Doesn't that make it sound cleaner? Why sure it does.
For years, this toxic crap has been trucked away and dumped in remote hollows of Appalachia, which was bad enough, but now environmentalists say the rule change will lead to accelerated pillage and the obliteration of hundreds of miles of streams.
''This is a parting gift to the coal industry from this administration,'' said Joe Lovett, executive director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment in Lewisburg, W.Va. ''What is at stake is the future of Appalachia. This is an attempt to make legal what has long been illegal.''
Again, according to the Times: "Mountaintop mining is the most common strip mining in central Appalachia, and the most destructive. Ridge tops are flattened with bulldozers and dynamite, clearing all vegetation and, at times, forcing residents to move."
Want to see what mountaintop mining does? Look at the mountain view at the top of this post again. Now look at what happens to that view after the coal companies have come through.
Why not take a minute and drop a line to your representative and tell him or her what you think of this Labor Day gift from Mr. Bush. Next time I see you I'll buy a round of mountain whiskey, or as close to mountain whiskey as these flatland laws will allow.
Now, I'll resume my time off. Play nice.