At this point it’s fairly common knowledge that coal mining is dangerous and destructive for both miners and the environment. Image-wise, it ranks up there with baby seal clubbing and lead-based pacifiers. Surface mining produces toxic runoff that affects water quality, releases methane from the crust into the atmosphere, and often destroys local flora and fauna. Last week’s explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia that killed 29 miners was a reminder of the toll that mining takes on human life as well.
All of the miners who died in the explosion worked for Massey Energy, a coal-extracting company with a checkered safety and environmental record. At an anti-union rally last year, Massey CEO Don Blankenship announced that the Mine Safety and Health Administration was “as silly as global warming,” which should give you an idea about his commitment to environmental stewardship. Massey’s Environmental Performance page leads with an announcement in a “36 percent reduction in citations from state regulatory agencies” since 2007. That’s sort of like saying they’ve had a 100 percent reduction in avoidable deaths since last Monday; true, but hardly something to brag about.
Coal is hardly the answer to American dependence on foreign oil – it’s just another dangerous and dirty fossil fuel. Right now it’s generating more than half of the country’s energy, while huge swaths of Tennessee and Virginia are slashed and burned and miners get buried underground. But hey, the last time I checked solar panels never killed anybody.