In a reversal of disastrous Bush Administration policies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is planning an aggressive review of permit requests which would allow mining companies to blow the tops off mountains in West Virgina and Kentucky. Mountain top removal (MTR) is equivalent to lopping off a person’s head from, say, the eyebrows on up. Of course the act is deadly to a human, and it is just as deadly to a mountain and its environment. Instead of mining along the contour around the perimeter of a mountain, the entire top of the mountain is area-mined.
Photo credit: Mountain Justice
Mountain top removal occurs in steps with the final result a devastated mountain top area with its contents strewn on valley floors and in rivers. The first step is the decimation and stripping of the forest environment at the very top of the mountain. Next, once the vegetation and forest environment are scraped and dragged away, tons of explosives are set off to blow up to 800 feet of the mountain apart, blasting rock and boulders away to shower down on area homes and land.
Photo credit: Mountain Justice
Huge shovels move in to continue the destruction of the mountain by moving and shoving the rock from the mountain top. Much of the loose rock and boulders are pushed into the valleys below to create “valley fill” which has been held to be illegal under the Clean Water Act.
Now, the mountain, vulnerable and denuded, is forced to surrender its prize – the coal that has been lying secure and safe within its core for thousands of years. The coal is mined Mining companies rush in to claim the remaining bones of the mountain giving little thought to the destruction that they have just created.
While coal companies are supposed to reclaim the ruined landscape and make the mountain “whole” again, often the reclamation efforts fail and only an unacceptable alternative remains in the place of a once pristine environment. How do you return a once-magnificent mountain top to its former glory?
Photo Credit: NASA Earth Observatory
Photo: Google Earth
Lighter, gray areas reflect mountain top removal sites
Long ago, Justice William O. Douglas took a stance on aesthetic and environmental issues and argued that natural resources should have the standing to sue for their own protection. In Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (U.S.) Douglas argued the following:
The critical question of “standing” would be simplified and also put neatly in focus if we fashioned a federal rule that allowed environmental issues to be litigated before federal agencies or federal courts in the name of the inanimate object about to be despoiled, defaced, or invaded by roads and bulldozers and where injury is the subject of public outrage. Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation. This suit would therefore be more properly labeled as Mineral King v. Morton.
Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole – a creature of ecclesiastical law – is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. The ordinary corporation is a “person” for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes.
So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modern life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes – fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water – whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger – must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction…..
The voice of the inanimate object, therefore, should not be stilled. That does not mean that the judiciary takes over the managerial functions from the federal agency. It merely means that before these priceless bits of Americana (such as a valley, an alpine meadow, a river, or a lake) are forever lost or are so transformed as to be reduced to the eventual rubble of our urban environment, the voice of the existing beneficiaries of these environmental wonders should be heard.
Perhaps they will not win. Perhaps the bulldozers of “progress” will plow under all the aesthetic wonders of this beautiful land. That is not the present question. The sole question is, who has standing to be heard?
Those who hike the Appalachian Trail into Sunfish Pond, New Jersey, and camp or sleep there, or run the Allagash in Maine, or climb the Guadalupes in West Texas, or who canoe and portage the Quetico Superior in Minnesota, certainly should have standing to defend those natural wonders before courts or agencies, though they live 3,000 miles away. Those who merely are caught up in environmental news or propaganda and flock to defend these waters or areas may be treated differently. That is why these environmental issues should be tendered by the inanimate object itself. Then there will be assurances that all of the forms of life which it represents will stand before the court – the pileated woodpecker as well as the coyote and bear, the lemmings as well as the trout in the streams. Those inarticulate members of the ecological group cannot speak. But those people who have so frequented the place as to know its values and wonders will be able to speak for the entire ecological community…..
That, as I see it, is the issue of “standing” in the present case and controversy.
But, Justice Douglas isn’t the only one who deigned to speak for inanimate objects. The Lorax – a Dr. Seuss classic from 1971 – speaks to the destruction of our environment. Ah the Lorax – a mythical, fluffy, puffy, not-too-handsome creature surrounded in his forest of Truffula trees with their magnificent straight trunks and wonderful colorful bushy hairdos. A forest that was soon to meet its demise. And, it began with only one – just one – Truffula tree that the Once-ler coveted and cut. With the first unkind cut, the forest of Truffulas shuddered, heavy with the knowledge that their end was near!
Photo credit: USA Today
One cut led to another, and, the final cruel cut of the last Truffula tree. But the Lorax remained hopeful for the day that all would be well and like it was before. The Lorax spoke for the trees – he mourned for his colorful, fluffy Truffula trees. And the Lorax never gave up hope, and this was left:
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with one word…
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess.
But the Once-ler – startled by his own brilliant flash of “aha” – finally understood what the Lorax meant:
“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
Who will speak for the tall, willowy, lush trees and the winding, meandering, life-giving rivers and the peaceful, crystal lakes and the soft, flower bedecked meadows and the majestic, tree-flecked mountain sides if not the Douglases and the Loraxes of this world?
The Appalachians are being raped. UNLESS – UNLESS! Be a Douglas – be a Lorax.