Timothy Egan reviews a book about strip-mining in West Virginia and the horrors of coal: "...check out those black nuggets - coal, a fossilized time bomb hauled out of the deepest holes in the earth and then belched back into the air as a planet-smothering byproduct. Nearly killed us, the whole lot of it."
January 22, 2008 - 12:43pm
Timothy Egan, former Seattle-based correspondent for the paper, reviewed the muckracking
tome "Coal River" by Michael Shnayerson for the Sunday Book Review and showed his own contempt toward the
"evil" depredations of coal companies of West Virginia:
"Someday there will be a
museum dedicated to all the dirty elements dragged out of the earth to keep us
warm and spin our generators. See there, son, a grizzled Gen Xer will say over
a barrel of oil, that ancient gunk nearly enslaved us to 12th-century theocrats
in the Mideast. And check out those black
nuggets - coal, a fossilized time bomb hauled out of the deepest holes in the
earth and then belched back into the air as a planet-smothering byproduct.
Nearly killed us, the whole lot of it.
"Alas, long after the carbon age is an
interactive memory, the legacy of coal will still be with us - and not just in
museum form. For that we have West
Virginia, a state of mournful beauty and citizens
with long memories. Over the last 20 years, entire mountaintops have been
sliced away by King Coal, forcing out families that have lived in those weepy
hollows for centuries. In less than a generation's time, perhaps a half-million
acres of rich Appalachian forest have been destroyed, according to the federal
government, by a process in which mountains are cleaved and the fill is dumped
into streams and valleys.
is possible for one industry to destroy both land and culture, the coal
companies clawing at West Virginia
have found a way to do it. Used to be, coal mining was done deep
underground, employing legions of miners. It was dangerous, but at least a
little coal town could coexist down the road from the mine, and there was
always a river nearby for fishing on Sunday afternoon. Now the industry employs
far fewer people by simply blowing up entire hillsides - mountain-ectomies.
Towns, farms, forests, schools, rivers - anything near the blast zone is a
Does the liberal Egan (who
ranted in a column this summer about the "bullies with electronic bullhorns" who opposed Bush's
failed immigration amnesty plan) really long for the days when everyone
was a coal miner? It's not the safest or most healthful job in the world.
sounds like a clash of David and Goliath, good versus evil....It leaves you
wondering: Where do they go, these lost residents of rumpled West Virginia coal country, after their
mountains are lopped off and the rivers choked with filth? Where do they go
when the companies leave town, never stitching their land back together? What
happens when six generations of a family bound to a single watershed do not
become seven generations, because the river is dead? The haunt has a stench all