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Strip Mining: Three States

March 2023
1min read

Sir:… For years now newspapers and television documentaries have reported in horrifying detail that central Appalachia—and eastern Kentucky in particular—is being shredded by strip mining. [See AMERICAN HERITAGE , December, 1969.] The truth of this reporting has been verified by both state and federal studies. Multitudes of worried and compassionate people have visited the region and deplored the heartless assaults against the land and the men, women, and children who call it their home. Scores of politicians (including Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy) have come to see the devastation and poverty, and editorial writers have used barrels of ink denouncing the exploitation. But despite all the outrage and hand-wringing, the strip mining goes on. The trees continue to fall, the streams continue to die as valley after valley is gutted, and the impoverished and demoralized people continue to flee to Michigan and Illinois. Exposés and public outrage count for nothing against the money and prestige of the corporate destroyers. They are, apparently, too big and too rich to check.

For example, Kentucky appropriates no money to police strip miners. The companies pay fees for permits to dismember mountains, and if no permits are issued, no funds will be available to pay the salaries of enforcement officers. Consequently, a steady flow of licenses is guaranteed no matter how steep the terrain or beautiful the doomed forest. Strict enforcement would shrink and eventually destroy the Reclamation Commission, and no one who understands the nature of bureaucracy can suppose the agency will ever enforce its way into oblivion and joblessness.

Then, too, the commission is indecently cozy with the companies. In the fall of 1969 the Louisville Courier-Journal disclosed that Elmore Grim, the state’s reclamation director, was permitting his office to be used to wring political contributions from the operators. …

The operators naturally have few fears after their money flows to the state’s capital, and such conventional “rights” as freedom of the press can be safely trampled by them and their hirelings in and out of public office. When Miss Jean Martin, a photographer for Whitesburg’s Mountain Eagle , sought to make pictures of land stripped for Bethlehem Steel she was attacked, her film was forcibly taken, and her life was threatened …

Here in Pike County we wait in vain for an answer to our letter to the president of Bethlehem asking for information as to their plans for stripping the mountains above our homes. For two years we have been asking Bethlehem to clean up the mess they left as a result of previous mining operations, and for two years our requests have been met with indifference and contempt. …

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