Ashley & the Strippers (mining, that is)

Movie star Ashley Judd appeared at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., the other day and unburdened herself of the notion that folks in eastern Kentucky don’t follow the little white ball around the golf course, another way of pointing to their lack of sophistication, one supposes, nothing new especially among the celebrities. Ridiculing “hillbillies” (her term) has practically been a cottage industry for the elites for many generations. Occasionally one arouses himself/herself and even takes a tour of the shacks on the hillsides and displays them for the public to see – pore thangs.

Politicians, especially, love to do this around election-time…shows their compassion for the “little people.” One remembers Lyndon Baines Johnson and Robert Kennedy. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon also visited coal-mining country. Or, a reporter may do a “story” once in a while, a la ABC’s Diane Sawyer, from that furrin, flat-land country known as Louisville. Back in 1999, President Clinton started his “poverty tour” in southeastern Kentucky and probably felt everyone’s pain. Appalachia draws do-gooders like honey draws flies…and bears.

Naw…golf wasn’t Judd’s subject, of course. Strip-mining was the subject and the guys who engage in it put up a poster at – of all places – a golf course deep in coal-country in Prestonsburg, Ky., depicting a topless Ashley and a script wondering why – if Ashley can make a living removing her top – they shouldn’t be able to remove tops, obviously with respect to mountains, not their hairy-chested torsos. Even the thought of that is sickening.

All the coal-mining in the Kentucky and West Virginia mountains, as well as in western Kentucky flatlands, was once a strictly underground endeavor, and underground mining is still important. There came a time after World War II, however, when the company brass figured it would be a lot cheaper to just blast away the hillsides, get rid of the worthless soil somehow, recover the coal, put it in big trucks and truck it on down to the railhead, tearing-up all the roads in the process. That’s called “strip-mining.” Remember John Prine singing about Mr. Peabody’s coal train hauling away Muhlenberg County?

Is strip-mining messy, harmful to the environment, and should it have ever been allowed? Yes, yes, and no! Of course, people look at it in different ways, mostly because of their circumstances relative to the subject. Do the guys running the gigantic equipment think it should be done? Yeah…it’s the economy stupid – jobs! Do the people whose property it ruins think it should be done? Of course not…well, unless they maybe run the machinery.

The problem, of course, is that Kentucky legislatures since time immemorial have been run by the democrats, although the Kentucky Senate has been the preserve of republicans for the last ten years, not that this makes much of a difference. Coal operators support everybody, just the price of doing business. Mining-laws have been on the books forever, and the appropriate laws could have kept underground mining exclusive and intact, though competition with other states might have ended it sooner or later…something to think about.

In the last 85 years, there have been only four republican governors so it’s fair to say that Kentucky’s democrat solons have been responsible for strip mining. Ironically, the U.S. congressman representing the preponderance of coal miners in southeast Kentucky is a republican, Hal Rogers, but that’s neither here nor there. Anyway, most do-gooders are also democrats, including the tree-huggers, and are naturally put-out (hillbilly term meaning “unhappy,” sorta) with the environmentally egregious miners, most of whom are also democrats.

So…what to do? The business can’t just be stopped…yeah, the economy, stupid. The horse is out of the barn (hillbilly for “too late”) but the protestors show up, never mind that the use of coal makes about everything they do possible, whether stripped or mined. They mostly protest over the aesthetics and environmental harm, real or imagined. Actually, not all that many acres are involved; however, this item: In Kentucky’s three largest lakes 283,730 acres are impounded…or 443 square miles.

That may not seem like much but it’s the exact size of one of the state’s larger counties – Trigg County. Just imagine taking a large county entirely off the map and burying it under water – all those beautiful trees/hillsides gone forever; all those farms gone (okay, great fire-cured tobacco country but it’s still legal); all those folks displaced against their wishes. And none of it would have happened if the insensitive non-tree-huggers hadn’t built those awful dams and wiped out the view. And (gasp), there are 43 additional lakes in Kentucky.

Strangely, the do-gooders never seem to think about the loss of hundreds of square miles to water, but rail constantly not about the loss but about the rearranging of strip-mine land. It’s still there somewhere when the dust settles, except for the coal, of course. Judd is joined in protests by other Kentucky intellectuals. The naturalist Wendell Berry comes to mind. He plows with a mule and wouldn’t dare use a polluting computer but has to use paper for his books and exhaust-spewing mechanized transportation to get to where he makes speeches about that awful strip-mining.

The problem with the protest crowd is mostly that they don’t live in coal-mining country, know little or nothing of its people, and rarely set foot (hillbilly for “visit”) there. They have one good argument, to wit, that the damage done by strip-mining to both people and property (and there’s plenty) should be repaired…okay, building golf courses is rarely done on the new table-tops and it’s hard to put anything on the sides of mountains anyway. The lake entrepreneurs build marinas and beaches and get rich. Shame on them! They’re probably mostly democrats, too.