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It's Time to Come Clean: New Yorkers Are Plugged in to Our Country's Dirtiest Source of Power

More than 240,000 tons of coal stripmined through mountaintop removal operations are consumed by New Yorkers every year.
 
 
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When the marquee signs on Broadway light up, a signal will most likely be sent from the New York Independent System Operator grid to the Lovett coal-fired plant, where the facility service will shovel in coal strip-mined from West Virginia mountains that have been clear cut, detonated with tons of explosives and toppled into the valleys.

In effect, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his borough constituents, like acclaimed New Yorker author Malcolm Gladwell, will participate in one of the most egregious environmental and human rights disasters in American history -- the employment of mountaintop removal mining methods in Appalachia that have literally blown up more than 500 mountains, wiped out 1.2 million acres of hardwood forests and sullied 1,200 miles of streams with toxic mining waste. In the process, scores of historic communities have been depopulated, left in ruin and saddled with unsparing poverty. Relying on heavy machinery and explosives, mountaintop removal operations have also stripped the region of needed jobs and any possibility of a diversified economy.

New York's connection to Appalachia dates back to Washington Irving's 1819 classic, Rip Van Winkle -- the forgotten Appalachia, then, referred to the Catskills. Nearly 200 years later, the New York Loves Mountains Festival May 29-31 calls on all New Yorkers to awaken to their connection to this national scandal in the southern Appalachian mountain range.

More than 240,000 tons of coal stripmined through mountaintop removal operations are consumed by New Yorkers every year. Thirteen power plants in 11 counties burn mountaintop removal coal. And every day in the lush green coalfields of the central Appalachian mountains, at least three million pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel-oil explosives are detonated to blow off the tops of mountains and topple the rocks and waste into valleys and streams.

While dramatic moves by the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administration to scrutinize and suspend select mountaintop removal operations in Appalachia are laudable and deeply appreciated by those who have endured the helter-skelter of unchecked strip-mining operations for decades, and while the deliberate move by the U.S. Department of Interior to rescind the Bush administration's mishandling of the 1983 stream buffer zone rule is admirable, one indubitable fact remains: Mountaintop removal is an immoral crime against nature and our citizenry, and it must be abolished, not regulated.

As former Vice President Al Gore has stated in public, "Mountaintop removal is a crime, and ought to be treated as a crime."

Even more outrageous: Mountaintop removal coal, which provides less than 7 percent of all coal production in the United States, could easily be replaced with underground coal or energy efficiency initiatives, or renewable energy sources.

But it endures.

All well-meaning intentions by the Obama administration aside, this is what is happening under our current policy: An estimated 400 million pounds of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosives will have ripped across and devastated our nation's oldest and most diverse mountains since President Obama took office in January.

So, here is where Malcolm Gladwell, the celebrated New Yorker author of the bestseller, "Outliers," can help New York break its Appalachian connection to feuding. In his "Outliers" chapter on eastern Kentucky hillfolk, Gladwell explored the coalfield feuds as "products of particular places and environments." Nothing has been more divisive and tragic as mountaintop removal mining. As a first step toward an armistice in the coalfields, a proposed industrial wind farm in upstate New York could easily replace the 3 percent of New York's electrical needs generated by mountaintop removal coal.

Secondly, Gladwell needs to learn more about Appalachia's progressive coal mining heritage. The New York Loves Mountains Festival will kick off on Friday, May 29, 8pm, at the Philip Coltoff Center in Greenwich Village (219 Sullivan Street), with a reading by the New Mummer Group of "Light Comes," the first national-touring original play on mountaintop removal in eastern Kentucky. As a sweeping epic on Appalachia's historical entanglement with Thomas Edison and New York City's first coal-fired plant, "Light Comes" is written and directed by Steinberg-Award winning playwright Sarah Moon, and includes a special appearance by Appalachian actress Stephanie Pistello, and acclaimed Kentucky cellist Ben Sollee.

 
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