A Fox News video clip showed up in two consecutive Facebook posts tonight: one from a horrified Gladlyville resident, one from a West Virginia friend who was cheering the news. Trump signed legislation to allow mountaintop removal waste to be dumped in West Virginia waterways, and as he did so he gave a little speech to the assembled parties, including legislators from WV and eastern Kentucky and some miners in hard hats who thanked him in husky voices for keeping his promises. (Trump was eager to point out the margin by which he had won in their home counties.)
Mountaintop removal is an ugly business, but I'm less concerned about the impact on the scenery than I am about the effects on the people who live near it. Let me just say it one more time: toxin exposure is bad for gestating babies. It is bad for developing brains. You cannot dump mining waste into a watershed and expect all to be well.
It is tempting for me to make this about the legislators who owe allegiance to Big Coal; I've posted about that before. But I am also seeing jubilation in the Facebook posts of my just-scraping-by West Virginia friends. This is harder for me to understand. I did not really expect McDowell County to welcome Bernie Sanders; what I know of McDowell County makes me think they would prefer for Sanders to take his East Coast accent and his East Coast agenda right back to DC. I suppose it is naive for me to expect that my acquaintances two counties over would be more enthusiastic about a rule promulgated by Obama.
And yet I did expect it. I cannot help but feel hopeless about a region that poisons its children while its adults applaud.
The house we lived in was about a 30-minute drive from the airport. I was an adult before I looked at a map of the region and saw how crazy that was: they were less than 3 miles apart as the crow flies. What you can't see from a two-dimensional Google map is the gorges, the way the creeks and streams have eaten their way down down down into the valleys. There's no direct route, because the terrain is too steep to make it practical. There is no bridge. You have to go around.
I am thinking about the divide between those two people whose posts popped up side by side in my Facebook feed: same news, opposite reactions. It goes so deep. I don't know how we're going to bridge it.