How to Undermine West Virginia’s Children

BY ON July 18, 2011

There’s nothing like a forest that goes on forever to make me feel like I’ve left the city  Molly Rauchbehind, along with the bad air (DC’s is among the poorest in the country), the cars (ditto for our traffic), and the iffy tap water (remember the lead fiasco of 2004?).

It had been a few years since I had been camping. The past two summers I’ve felt up to my neck with three little kids. But this year I was ready. We’ll roast marshmallows! Plus, while DC urbanites are slogging through 95 degree weather, we’ll be happily dipping our toes in a cold West Virginia mountain stream.

Which is mostly how it happened when we went camping in West Virginia last month. We saw tadpoles, butterflies, and a bald eagle. We walked through lovely woods blanketed with ferns, and picnicked on a rock ledge with expansive views of ridge after ridge of West Virginia forest.

I thought about this amazing view when I read last week about West Virginia’s Upshur County school board. It is currently fighting a plan to open a coal mine directly under its Buckhannon-Upshur High School, as well as the site of a future middle school that has not yet been built. That high school, and the mine proposed by St Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., was practically in sight of the Monongahela National Forest, where I had taken my kids last month to get away from the city.

West Virginia’s rugged, rocky terrain, with its narrow valleys and mountain streams, accounts at least in part for its miles of forest. It’s just not possible to farm much of that land. And those same mountains provide the coal that coal comprises 12% of the state’s gross state product, bolstering the state’s economy – such as it is. In 2008, West Virginia ranked 49th of US states in median household income. (It was $37,989.)

The Upshur County board of education and some environmental groups oppose the mining plans because of concerns about methane gas leaking from the mine into school buildings, potentially causing an explosion. They are also concerned about the possibility of subsidence, which is when land above mine shafts slides downward, potentially damaging school buildings.

The symbolism is almost too perfect, from my perspective. Arch Coal’s plans would literally undermine the children of West Virginia. Because whatever economic benefits may accrue to Arch Coal and the state through the development of this coal mine, coal’s potential damages go beyond methane and subsidence. The coal coming from under that school, when burned, will pollute the air of the region, or whichever region it’s imported to, contributing to the development, over a lifetime, of asthma, heart disease, and even diabetes.

Our nation’s electricity habit as currently constructed, with almost half of our electricity coming from coal combustion, just isn’t healthy for children. Even when it’s hidden behind a spectacular forested ridgeline in rugged, remote West Virginia.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force, and tell the EPA that you want our coal plants to stop threatening the health of children.

TOPICS: Economics, Pollution