Where I'm from, entire mountaintops have been blasted and bulldozed and stripped of coal and left as brutal disfigurements on the Appalachian skyline.
Rains fall over ravaged hills and fill the waterways below with a stinking amalgamation of pollutants. Without the forests to intercept the water, "hundred-year floods" sweep through downhill communities every three or four years.
It was an environmental disaster when I left West Virginia in 1975. And nothing's changed.
Four weeks before oil began gushing from under the ruins of the Deepwater Horizon, setting off another kind of environmental disaster, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a study with a conclusion of such utter obviousness, it read like an exercise in irony. The EPA report cited "a growing body of evidence" that mountaintop removal was destroying streams (1,200 since 1992) and causing an escalating degradation of the environment.
Any school kid, looking out over giant expanses of denuded and upturned earth, could have provided the same analysis. And as any adult who has lived in southern West Virginia these last four decades could tell you, the coal industry can't be stopped, EPA study or not. Strip mine operators will still flout environmental laws, buy off the politicians and dynamite the mountaintops. Their lobbyists and flacks will still insist, in the face of massive evidence to the contrary, that the mountains have been restored to a pristine condition. And folks in a region utterly dependent on coal mining jobs dare not complain.
A year ago, a secretive group of out-of-state oil speculators, calling themselves Florida Energy Associates, was working hard to sell another mendacious carbon-based concept. They hired 30 of the most powerful lobbyists in Florida. They hired flacks. They made prodigious campaign contributions. And it very nearly worked.
Leading Republican politicians were co-opted by these oil guys. The probable nominee for the U.S. Senate, Marco Rubio; the next president of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos, and his counterpart in the House, speaker-designate Dean Cannon, all spoke in favor of allowing offshore exploration. "Safe and clean," insisted Rep. Seth McKeel, who sponsored bills three years running to allow oil drilling to within a few miles of the Florida coastline.
It seems almost cruel, now, as devastating evidence of the big black lie moves ever closer to the Panhandle's alabaster beaches, to recall their many assurances that offshore drilling would be a low-risk enterprise that would only benefit Florida.
It was never about reality or science or even sensible economics. It was a lobbyist-driven concept, a PR-manufactured illusion. Of course, in Florida politics, that amounts to the very definition of reality. Florida Energy Associates hired a self-anointed economist named Hank Fishkin, who sent op-eds to state newspapers claiming Florida would reap great economic benefits from offshore drilling, against little risk. "Extremely safe," Fishkin called it.
Offshore drilling is now extremely dead, with the big lie juxtaposed against an actual, nasty disaster. Massive economic damage to tourism and commercial fishing can now be quantified. Gov. Charlie Crist, Rubio, Cannon and Haridopolos suddenly sound like members of the Audubon Society. No sane politicians in Florida will ever again mutter the phrase, "Drill, baby, drill."
But all this means is that Floridians, who enjoy real political clout in America, won't be inconvenienced by their insatiable lust for carbon-based fuels. It won't stanch the burying of streams in West Virginia or the poisoning of marshes around the oil fields of Nigeria or the destruction of the environment in so many other places where energy interests run roughshod over politically impotent people.
It only means that Floridians, once this mess is cleaned up, can return to their customary state, oblivious to an unfolding global environmental catastrophe, lying on gleaming white, sugar-sand beaches, looking out at unspoiled ocean horizons.
Not an oil platform in sight.