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Mountaintop Removal Mining

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Dan Barry had a superb piece in today’s NYT about Lindytown, West Virginia, whose residents have been bought out by a coal-mining subsidiary of Massey Energy. With the mountaintop mining operation taking place above the town, buying the town out may have been cheaper and easier than dealing with resident complaints and claims.

The article explains that after a mountain is removed (literally removed) to mine its coal, the land must be restored. Typically, this is done by placing the remains into an adjacent valley, then planting over it all. Barry describes the typical result,

an out-of-context clot of land that rises hundreds of feet in the air — “a valley fill,” [environmental advocate Maria Gunnoe] says, that has been “hydroseeded” with fast-growing, non-native plants to replace the area’s lost natural growth: its ginseng root, its goldenseal, it hickory and oak, maple and poplar, black cherry and sassafras.

“And it will never be back,” she says.

Ms. Gunnoe has a point. James Burger, a professor emeritus of forestry and soil science at Virginia Tech University, said the valley fill process often sends the original topsoil to the bottom and crushed rock from deeper in the ground to the top. With the topography and soil properties altered, Dr. Burger says, native plants and trees do not grow as well.

“You have hundreds of species of flora and fauna that have acclimated to the native, undisturbed conditions over the millennia,” he says. “And now you’re inverting the geologic profile.”

Coincidentally, zunguzungu had a post yesterday on mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia (hat tip to Andrew Sullivan). He describes the annual floods he was accustomed to during his West Virginia childhood and notes that

[f]looding has been getting worse and worse in the last decade or so, and as more and more of the dense network of Southern Appalachia’s creeks and streams — that once absorbed excess rainflow — have been transformed into post- mountaintop removal hellscapes, people whose campaign coffers aren’t filled with coal and industry donations have started to question whether there’s a relationship between increasingly regular and destructive flooding and the kind of environmental devastation necessitated by MTR mining …

After they’ve flattened the land, they are required by law to “reclaim” the land, but at best, “reclamation” means a micro-layer of just enough top soil to support some sparse grass … . And this means that where there once was lush vegetation and crooked streambeds soaking up rainfall, you now have rocky basins that channel it down into the floodplain where people live.

zunguzungu’s post is worth a look, at the least, for its photos, one of which is at the top. And be sure to read Barry’s article.

Categories: Business, Environment

Masters 2012?

April 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Augusta's 12th hole (of course)

I have this dream that some year, in early April, I will find myself in Augusta, Georgia, attending the Masters. Preferably accompanied by Gail. We’ve been to a PGA Championship together — the 1998 PGA at Sahalee in nearby Sammamish. We’ve been to a US Open together — the 2002 Open at Bethpage Black near where I grew up. And we’ve been to a British Open together — the 2004 Open Championship at Royal Troon near where our friends the Browns grew up. The Masters is overdue.

There are obstacles. One is that getting away in April is harder than getting away in June, July, or August. But the principal obstacle is the unavailability of tickets. The Masters famously limits the number of tickets sold, and those they do sell are permanently taken. Like season tickets for a football team, they are renewable year-to-year, and from what I understand, they can be passed down, at least within a family. Masters officials strongly discourage resale of tickets, claiming that scalped tickets will not be honored and the sellers will lose their rights. But this must not be enforced in any serious way, since tickets are always available — at a price. They may be the most sought after scalped sports tickets in the US, or perhaps second only to the Super Bowl. I investigated last year, when I was on sabbatical and our getting away in early April seemed plausible. But the prices discouraged me, along with my fear that I’d pay a thousand bucks or more for invalid or fraudulent tickets.

Actual Masters tickets are not just rare, but modestly priced, as is everything at the Masters, from the famous pimento cheese sandwiches to the souvenirs. This makes the huge cost of tickets in the secondary market all the more cruel, in contrast, say, to Super Bowl tickets. I have come to accept that some day I’ll accept the cruelty, pay the price, and go.

But maybe not! The lords of the Masters have taken pity on us. As patrons have allowed their subscriptions to lapse, a pool of tickets has been built up, and last week those lords announced that they will be made available by a random selection process, starting next year. This morning I applied.

It’s not the best arrangement. Only single-day passes are available. If I understood the wording correctly, you can’t do better than getting a pass for a single practice day (Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday) and, I gather in a separate random process, a pass for a single tournament day (Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday). The series passes remain unavailable. Would it be worth the effort to fly to Georgia just for a single day of golf?

Well, we can decide that later. First we have to be chosen. This morning, I filled out the application. One can request up to 4 passes for the practice days and up to 2 passes for the tournament days. I requested 2 passes for each category.

When Gail got home, I excitedly told her that we were entered in the lottery, but once I explained the conditions, she didn’t share the excitement. She wasn’t too keen to make the trip just to get on the course for a single day. She suggested I go with someone else, such as our friend and fellow golf fan John. Again, we can work that out later. First we have to be chosen. And we can work out later whether we’ll actually be free to travel in April.

For now, I will dream.

Categories: Golf