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Guest Blogger: Allen Johnson on Bush's Environmental Policies

Allen Johnson is coordinator for Christians for the Mountains, an advocacy group that organizes Christians to protect the environment. The organization, which was featured in the 2006 MOYERS ON AMERICA documentary IS GOD GREEN?, has a special focus on the region of southern Appalachia. We'd like to thank Allen Johnson, who previously wrote an update about mountaintop mining, for sharing his thoughts on the Bush administration's recent changes to the nation's environmental regulations.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Allen Johnson are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.
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A failed Bush administration is firing final salvos from its sinking ship in the form of administrative rules changes, “a thank you” to 8 years of special interest support. One particularly odious ruling revises a Clean Water Act prohibition of mine waste fill within 100 feet of a stream. Not that the prohibition had been enforced. Flagrant violations have buried many hundreds of miles of Appalachian streams in a coal mine extraction process called “Valley Fill.” Simply put, valleys make convenient places to dump waste rock separated from mined coal. But at least the prohibition on stream burial had given environmental groups legitimate ground for lawsuit. Bush’s farewell fiat knocks the legs out of these legal recourses.

Governors from the coal states of Kentucky and Tennessee pleaded against the ruling. To no avail. Nor did the Bush administration consult the incoming Obama administration…of course not. Rather to time the rule change to hamstring the incoming president. And such rules once in place can take years to undo.

This is “spitting in the eyes” of the voters. Such dictatorial rulings by an outgoing president, especially in light of impending environmental policy shift, subverts our representative democracy. The election is over. Bush has a few months to clear out while Obama gets on board. The electorate has spoken. Voters want the new guy making decisions for the future.

Which means the Bush administration has hijacked the aspirations of the rising generation. In fact, until this week Bush was seeking to relax pollution controls on power plants, precipitating a howl of protest including the ire of 6 Northeastern governors.

As a Christian active in advocacy for God’s earth and justice for its inhabitants, certain theological ramifications rise to my mind.

  • Several hundred years of Hebrew political history is recorded in the biblical books of Kings and Chronicles. The writers remark upon the death of each king whether he “did what is right in the sight of The Lord” or “did evil in the sight of The Lord.” Leadership in regards to idolatry was the major indictment, with oppression and injustice also in the mix. What are the idols of our age, and what are the responses of our leaders in commerce, government, and religion in response to these idols?

  • Jesus emphatically stated that one cannot serve both God and Mammon (money), but will love one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24). Which one of these “masters” is being served in the rules revision of the Clean Water Act?

  • The Bible speaks of intergenerational covenant (Hebrew berith) in that God commits to preserve the earth for all future generations of humans and other living creatures (Genesis 9:8-17). How do the Bush regulatory revisions align with God’s covenantal promise for future generations?

  • Inasmuch as a tipping point for Bush’s own election success was his preponderance of Christian votes, how do Christians square their faith with Bush’s closing actions?


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    I dreamed last night about John Henry, mining coal. He looked exactly like Barack Obama, swung that pick whistling like a golf club, but he couldn't put the top back on those Kentucky mountains. All the king's horses and all the king's men....

    Jerry: Thanks for your opinion, a scarce commodity here. I guess Allen Johnson needs a catchy tune from a demi-celebrity and the endorsement of an old hat big name to get any real recognition on Moyers. Coal, which runs our homes and will charge electric cars if infrastructure is not improved, may be the most substantive issue Americans can affect right away. Cleancoal is presently a lie,and you have some mercury ash every time you consume fish (So healthy!). Some backward utilities continue garnering side bets and CEO bonuses by building coal generation plants. North Carolina (where Duke Energy places a stooge on every town council) recently obtained a judgment against the TVA for damages done by their ash. Montana and Utah could be stripmined in a climate disrupted world. People, don't you see those long strings of gondolas as you sit at the crossing? That is your beautiful country being hauled away, your health and political stability being squandered for immediate profit. The mining and use of coal today are the very definition of BACKWARD. Everyone tell Barack Obama....

    There is no enviromental policy from leadership that is worth a damn. The rich power elite only care about themselves as long as they are alive. They know that by the time they must worry about the affects of global destruction, they themselves will be unaffected because they will be dead and gone. They have no reason to worry.

    Thanks Klark. The one listed in my county (Gaston) is one of the biggest. I'll look for it on Google maps and get my girlfriend Peggy to drive out with me to find it and take photos.

    Found on the net, Irene. The Charlotte Observer of Saturday, January 10th lists the slag lagoons from coal plants produced by local utilities in North and South Carolina. No liners, inspections, or other safety or environmental measures are provided by these states. Some states are a little better, some worse. I just wanted the chance reader to know that slag piles exist far from the horrible strip mines, maybe in your neighborhood. They don't haul it back to the hills on trains. Watch for slides into waterways and tainted water. Your state is likely pretending not to see or know.

    Klark is probably incompetent to comment on this. He's never been to Appalachia and is not religious.
    But then again, we all drink the water that flows from the hills, and we all see the 1% elite who own everything degrading the world around us for money.

    In "Inconvenient Truth" Al Gore shows a scale with the whole Earth on one side and gold bars on the other. (It was a graphic from a government report on resources and climate change.) Gore facetiously comments,"I sure would like me some of them gold bars." That was when I really began to trust and understand the former vice president. The question at the nugget is, "What has priority, life or private property?"

    Notice: The views of Allen Johnson may not coincide with those of Bill Moyers' Journal. We have an acute and dire problem: Barack Obama believes in clean coal.
    It just goes to show our new president's ineptness where science and history are concerned. He is a victim of career specialization and will soon be a victim of ill-chosen advisers.

    What does Allen Johnson have to say about the big impoundment disaster in Harriman, Tennessee? This is a far larger issue than the criminal policies of George W. Bush. All this destruction in the mountains, the toxic smoke and sludge and slag preceded Bush, as did the myth of cleancoal.

    The critical situation of toxic slag draining into the Tennessee River highlights how coal mining interfaces with water quality issues. Like nuclear, there is no proven method or place for the storage of toxic waste from coal burning. I recently watched FLOW, a new film about the privatization of fresh water by large multinational corporations. It is part of a campaign to add a new clause tho the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That added amendment would guarantee the availability of fresh, clean water to everyone under collective ownership. It makes sense since water comprises most of our bodies.

    If we campaign for water justice, maybe Obama can receive his education through the back door as a human rights and environmental quality issue. It remains to be seen if Bill Moyers' Journal will explore this issue or repress it due to political connections and funding considerations. (The earlier blockage of posts on this blog, and its quick burial, make me suspicious. It wouldn't be the first time... Why am I, a day laborer in New Jersey, the only responder?)

    Bill Moyers: Thanks for sharing the spirit of Myles Horton with the people. What a wonderful Christmas gift to struggling American activists!

    If you investigate Appalachian human rights and environmental organizations you can see that they do not crave any revenue from mountain-top mining or energy from new coal-fired electrical generation plants. They understand completely that cleancoal is a lie because it is not feasible. In fact, they understand that if we had the technological sophistication to make coal mining and generation clean, that we would have passed beyond the need for coal. People in the mountains want clean energy, healthy food production, single payer medical care and meaningful jobs just like the rest of us. In many ways, they have been ahead of the rest of America in opposing expedient corporate dominance. They remain generally our poorest region, more because of coal than in spite of it. Racism in the election and conservative religion only go to illustrate what Sarah Chayes says about tribalism. When under siege, people seek the nearest shelter of convenience. Neil Young committed an ethnic slur when he acted in "Appalachian ER" on Saturday Night Live, but he is a barometer. With an irrational consciousness and a sensitive subconscious he acted out the devolution which results from sadistic oppression. If corporate interests don't relent soon they may produce an Appalachian Taliban. Our elite is adept at producing managed enemies when they need them.

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