June 12, 2010

One of the main takeaways from Rand Paul's disturbing musings on civil rights -- as well as his sturdy defense of the indefensible that is British Petroleum -- clearly was, as John put it, that he's a typical out-of-touch country-club conservative Republican -- not to mention that he likewise manages to carry on his dad's tradition of right-wing extremism.

But these also are revealing moments about the limitations of libertarianism as a political philosophy -- because it clearly demonstrates how libertarian "principle" all too often, and all too consistently, essentially gives unbridled permission to behavior and actions that are toxic to our communities and their well-being, and to our democratic institutions as a nation. Which means that libertarianism all too often is often merely used as a pseudo-principled front for the worst impulses in American society, all under the pretense of "freedom".

Well, that very limitation is also readily self-evident when it comes to Paul's position on a subject that directly affects the Kentuckians he wants to represent in the United States Senate: mountaintop-removal coal mining. This issue, perhaps more than any other, reveals Rand Paul, and all the libertarians like him, to be nothing more than the corporate tools they really are.

Here's Rand Paul in an interview from October 5, 2009, via Jeff Biggers:

PAUL: I think people out here would find that I would be a great friend to coal. Not 'cause I come to Eastern Kentucky to pander to coal, but because I believe business should be left alone from government. I think the permit process needs to be made easier from the federal level and the state level. I think we shouldn't have special taxes on their profit. I think we should have lower corporate taxes. Those who create jobs -- I would much more rather lower taxes on the coal industry so they can hire a new hundred new workers than I would say, let's tax the coal industry, send it to Washington, so that we can get a hundred new people digging a ditch that may or may not need to be dug. So yeah, I'm greatly in favor of that. I think coal's a big part of our future because we have a lot of it, still, in the United States, it's fairly readily accessible, and it's where we get most of our electricity. Coal now competes -- you may not know this, a lot of people out here know this -- but about half of our electrical needs come from coal. And it's cheaper than oil and gas, actually, for your electricity.

Q: What about mountaintop removal?

PAUL: I think whoever owns the property can do with the property as they wish, and if the coal company buys it from a private property owner and they want to do it, fine. The other thing I think is that I think coal gets a bad name, because I think a lot of the land apparently is quite desirable once it's been flattened out. As I came over here from Harlan, you've got quite a few hills. I don’t think anybody's going to be missing a hill or two here and there.

And some people like having the flat land. Some of it apparently has become quite valuable when it's become flattened. And I think they do a good job at reclaiming the land, and you know, adding back in topsoil, bringing in help. So the bottom line is, it's not just me pandering to coal. It's me believing in private property.

If they bought the property, they own the property, they can do with that property, as long as they don't pollute someone else's property. And I don't think they want to. If they dump something in the river that goes to the next property, your local judges here will stop them. But I don't think they're doing that. I think what they're doing is what they can do with property they own, and doesn't appear to me to be something the federal government should be getting involved with.

It's harder to get any more afactual and ignorant than that, when it comes to the realities. Indeed, either Paul has just swallowed coal-company lies and propaganda whole, or he's just flatly lying himself.

The facts:

With 95% accuracy, analysis shows that nearly 1.2 million acres (10% of Central Appalachia) have been surface-mined for coal. It also revealed that more than 500 mountains have been severely impacted or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining. The study was completed in 2009 by Appalachian Voices based on 2008 aerial and mining permit data.

Over 89 percent of the sites identified in the survey are not being reclaimed. Heckuva job, Paulie!

Wanna see those now-missing "hill or two here or there"? Here's a map of all the hilltop mining operations in the Appalachians. The little green and yellow tabs mark the "reclaimed" sites, while the red ones are for unreclaimed ones:


And here's what a typical mountaintop-removal site looks like without "reclamation" -- this is the Hobet mine in West Virginia, seen from space:


Go here for a before-and-after look at the Hobet mine, just so you can get some perspective of the enormity of this purposeful manmade eco-disaster.

Now multiply that by five hundred, and you'll have a sense of the enormity of what has befallen people living in the Appalachians.

The NRDC's Rob Perks has more:

Of the 500 mountaintop removal sites we examined, we excluded 90 from our survey due to active, ongoing mining activity. That left 410 supposedly reclaimed mine sites, for which we found that:

* 366 (89.3%) had no form of verifiable post-mining economic reclamation excluding forestry and pasture
* 26 (6.3% of total) yield some form of verifiable post-mining economic development
* Only about 4% of mountains in Kentucky and West Virginia, where the vast majority of this mining is occurring, had any post-mining economic activity.
* Virginia had the highest proportion of economic activity on its reclaimed mountaintop removal sites at 20%.
* Tennessee, which has relatively little mountaintop removal compared to the other three states, had no economic activity on the 6 sites examined in that state.
* Overall, economic activity occurs on just 6% to 11% of all reclaimed mountaintop removal sites surveyed as part of this analysis.

The so-called beneficial development projects include:

* industrial parks (4)
* oil and gas fields (3)
* golf courses (3)
* airports (2)
* municipal parks (2)
* hospital (1)
* ATV training center (1)
* county fairground (1)

In addition, commercial agriculture or farming was identified on nine sites, sometimes in conjunction with other land uses such as residential development. The post-mining land use status of all but 18 mountain locations was identified with a high level of confidence. These locations were identified as having “possible” post-mining economic land uses. This means that some evidence of potential economic reclamation exists on these sites, such as mowed fields or improved structures, but specific land use was not clear. In some cases, it was unclear whether structures were abandoned or directly connected to former or existing mining activity on site or nearby.

What is clear is that mountaintop removal has yielded little economic development on reclaimed mine lands in Appalachia despite the abundance of landscapes with flattened topography available for industrial, commercial, or residential post-mining economic activity.

What was particularly risible was Paul's contention that if these operations polluted their neighbors, why, local judges would surely hold the polluters liable for the damages to their neighbors. Evidently, Paul knows nothing about the history of broad form deeds, which were the legal instrument used by the coal companies to obtain rights to the lands they then leveled without regard to their neighbors:

When coal companies bargained with landowners to buy mineral rights, they commonly negotiated favorable terms for themselves and did not adequately explain the terms to the largely uneducated landowners, who often did not understand the contracts. The companies paid very little for the coal, despite the fact that they reserved the right to use the land surface for coal development.

Most of the mineral rights deeds were made in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, when underground mining was common and surface mining was rare. Land owners who signed these deeds never expected that their homesteads would be turned into strip mines. Yet up until the mid-1980’s, courts in Appalachia consistently interpreted broad form deeds to permit surface mining operations even though the grantor had retained the surface rights to the land above the coal seam. Broad form deeds included language that waived mining companies’ liability for surface impacts that were “convenient or necessary” to the mining operation. Based on the turn-of-the-century mining technologies in use during that time period, this language meant that the mining company, which owned only the subsurface mineral rights, could build roads, buildings, coal waste piles, and other structures, as well as harvest timber, on the surface land to facilitate an underground mining operation.

Moreover, they could completely trash neighboring streams without regard to consequence. This is why, as Ashley Judd put it the other day, "Children in eastern Kentucky draw creeks black. They don’t know they're supposed to run clear."

John McQuaid explains that mountaintop removal has already destroyed 1,500 miles of streams in the Appalachians:

The spread of mountaintop removal through central Appalachia in the past 15 years has given scientists the opportunity to study environmental destruction on a previously unthinkable scale: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that by 2013 a forested area the size of Delaware will have been destroyed and that more than 1,200 miles of streams have already been severely damaged. As that footprint has grown, so has the evidence, outlined in peer-reviewed scientific papers and ongoing investigations, showing that the damage is far more extensive than previously understood.

Moreover, the health impacts, particularly on children, of this form of mining are both pernicious and widespread -- and have been fully documented.

You see, this is how the real world works: wealthy interests manipulate policy at the state and federal level, and likewise manipulate the law and the courts in their favor, all while the interests of ordinary people are bulldozed. And it's all done under the supposed "principles" of libertarianism -- which really are just convenient way for corporate interests to run amok without regard to the consequences for any of their fellow citizens.

One has to suspect that Rand Paul actually is perfectly aware of this -- and just doesn't care. He has his precious "principles" to run on. He calls them "libertarian". We call him a corporate tool.

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