MR. SECRETARY, WE’RE WATCHING YOU
NewEnergyNews will end 2008 with a new feature. In addition to permanently posting columnist Anne Butterfield's contributions down the left column, her fine bi-weekly think-pieces will be posted in the main column to kick them off from now on.
Mr. Secretary, we're watching you
By Anne Butterfield
Sunday, December 28, 2008
As our new Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar will take a job that will test his fiber. He loves the Rockies and has protected Colorado's Roan Plateau from drilling. As a top water law expert, he has protected our state's water rights. Many champion his ability to protect our nation's resources which have been battered and insulted by the Bush Administration's campaign on behalf of industry.
However, Salazar does not have a spotless record. Along with voting against higher fuel efficiency for vehicles, he was also one of a handful of Democrats to vote against a bill that would require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to consider global warming when planning water projects -- two very weird votes in light of important threats.
He also went out of his way to support the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as U.S. Attorney General and Gale Norton for Interior Secretary who both later stepped down during scandals.
The most likely explanation of these choices is that Salazar moonlights as a weather vane.
If he becomes Secretary, Salazar will have to stiffen his resolve and face an agency scalded by scandal for having dealt in sex, drugs and back door arrangements with the industries it is created to regulate. One such arrangement was the very recent rule change favoring industry on dumping mining debris in streambeds.
This month Robert F. Kennedy Jr. testified to the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming to decry the Interior Department's recent rule change to make coal mining's worst practices fully legal. He flew over Appalachia to see the big picture.
"If people could see what I saw on that trip there would be a revolution. We are literally cutting down the Appalachian Mountains."
From RepMarkey via YouTube.
What Kennedy saw were the chalky-white remains of mountains blown away from their coal seams, 400,000 acres in all. To do this, the industry uses explosive power each week that equals a Hiroshima bomb, and draglines that stand 22 stories high and minimize the need for labor.
West Virginia's coal mining used to employ 140,000 union workers; now there are 11,000 workers left, very few in unions. With so few jobs there is little revenue to build up the local economies.
"Ninety-five percent of the coal in West Virginia is owned by out of state interests which are liquidating the state for cash, literally," according to Kennedy.
The economic truth does not stop mining supporters from killing the pets or sabotaging the vehicles of those who protest the mining, on the ruse of protecting "jobs." This truth did not stop Interior from ignoring the vast majority of 43,000 comments opposing the rule change proposed by industry to legalize the customary dumping of mining debris into streams.
Back in 2002, a group for Kentucky sued the coal companies before a conservative federal court judge named Charles Hayden, who asked, according to Kennedy, "You know this is illegal. It says so in the Clean Water Act. How did you write these permits to allow the companies to engage in this criminal activity?" The Colonel testifying for the Army Corps of Engineers answered, "I don't know your honor, we just kind of oozed into it."
Judge Hayden declared it all illegal and enjoined all mountaintop mining.
Two days later, according to Kennedy, lobbyists for Peabody coal and Massey coal met in the back door of the Interior Department with Gale Norton's first deputy chief Steven J. Griles, himself a former coal lobbyist, and they re-wrote one word of the Clean Water Act, "fill," to make it legal in every state to dump rock, debris, rubble, garbage, any solid material into any waterway without a Clean Water Act permit.
"All you need today is a rubber stamp from the Corps of Engineers, which in some districts you can get through the mail or over the telephone," said Kennedy.
Remember, this is the Corps of Engineers that Salazar voted to protect from having to consider climate change in their construction plans.
The fact remains that with his say-so, Salazar as Interior Secretary will determine the well-being of mountains and their streambeds all over the nation.
Coloradans, who clearly love mountains, should watch him like a hawk, because it is to us he will return should he wish to win an election again.