Paul Epstein: Innovate, don’t evacuate, coalfields (Gazette)

By By Paul Epstein

Retired TV news correspondent Ed Rabel, in an op-ed in the Aug. 21 Gazette-Mail, suggests that the Southern West Virginia coalfields should be evacuated because strip mining, combined with drug use, other health issues and hopelessness in an economically starved region have made it dangerous to live there. I don’t dispute his view of the state of the region, just his proposed solution.

As a transplant who has probably lived here longer than most West Virginians who were born here, 40 years, I can say without hesitation that we love our mountains and are tied to the land. Even those operating the heavy equipment that is destroying it love the mountains and streams and want to stay here. They just operate under the belief that mining coal regardless of the harm to the environment is what must be done to maintain their standard of living and our state’s economy.

Rabel imagined what he would do if he were king. What I would do is gather together politicians and religious leaders, educators and health professionals, bankers and lawyers, scientists and captains of industry, and tell them that coal is history. We will leave the rest of the coal in the ground for some future when sun, wind, waves, geothermal, biomass or other nonpolluting forms of energy can no longer provide energy. I would tell them it is up to all of us as a state and a nation to make the transition now: a national mobilization for clean energy. If we can send spacecraft to the ends of the solar system and reach the bottom of the ocean, if we can transplant hearts and lungs and create hip replacements and artificial lungs, cure cancers and create computers that can outthink a man, then we can create a clean-energy future.

On Saturday, Sept. 12 at shelter No. 6 of Kanawha State Forest, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., a group of people who love our mountains and streams will participate in a worldwide event called The Ground Beneath our Hearts, organized to honor the creativity, dignity and resilience of people who live in communities affected by mining and oil and gas development. This is a celebration, not a protest, and everyone who loves our state and wants to preserve it is invited to attend. For more information, go to ohvec.org/ground-beneath-our-hearts.

Paul Epstein is a retired teacher, writer, and musician living in Charleston.

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