Column - Mountaintop removal mining is efficient, beneficial
Published: Sunday, February 26, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 27, 2012 00:02
I hate mountains. If I had my way, West Virginia would be as flat as Kansas.
I completely and utterly loathe them. I don't even want the precious resources within them because it would validate their existence in the first place.
Okay, I'm kidding. But it seems those are the words environmentalists hear when you tell them you support mountaintop removal coal mining.
And I absolutely, unapologetically do.
Of course, being from West Virginia and having lived here my entire life, those are quite controversial words.
Mountaintop removal mining is a very divisive item in this state and across Appalachia.
After all, West Virginia is the Mountain State and has been dubbed "Mountain Momma."
So, how can someone whose heritage is linked with these titans of the Earth turn his back on them?
I'll answer. Frankly, mountaintop removal mining is more efficient and safer than underground mining, and I care more about the positive effects this has on people than mountains.
More often than not, I'm accused of being a heartless, social-Darwinian because of my fondness of free market economics.
"What about the poor?" they inquire. "What if someone can't afford the basic necessities?"
Of course, my answers to these questions will never satisfy them. To these individuals, it is unacceptable under almost every circumstance that any person can go without what they deem as a basic necessity.
It's not really a stretch to suggest that, oftentimes, the aforementioned kind-hearted souls are also quite fond of the environment and seek to protect it.
What they don't realize is their goal of making available basic necessities is inextricably tied to the free market and taking advantage of our nature-given resources.
I'll absolutely concede mountaintop removal mining is hazardous to the ecosystem of the mountain.
Removing the top of a mountain and filling the valley next to it would absolutely change the local ecosystem.
But, still, I argue "So, what?" Animals as well as people, adapt to changing environments all the time and when compared to the actual benefits of this form of mining, the impacts are worth taking.
Moreover, in a free market setting, most, if not all, externalities created by these disturbances in the local ecosystem could be handled through litigation and the court system.
People whose property is damaged by the act would be justly compensated.
Again, I'll concede there are problems with what I just said. West Virginia's government is notoriously in bed with big coal companies. This is something of which I do not, and will not ever approve.
To counter this, West Virginians need to put pressure on the state government to pass a no-tolerance law that states that any and all damages to property or health that can be proved to be the result of actions of another party or parties will be completely covered by the damager of said property or health.
Many times, a coal company's liability is limited and they are protected by legislation. I will side every single time with environmentalists and argue that approach is a travesty and is unacceptable.
Environmentalists would have you believe there is no actual benefit to mountaintop removal mining, or, if there are, they are marginal at best.
This statement, both logically, and empirically, is untrue.
A coal company would only invest in a mining venture if both the expected marginal benefits of doing so exceeded the expected marginal costs of any other potential mining operation.
This is what's known as opportunity cost. All else equal, any wise entrepreneur weighs the expected profits for any investment against all other opportunities and will choose the most profitable.
Empirically speaking, mountaintop removal mining is often more efficient than underground mining and safer.
Whereas environmentalists are concerned about losing mountains and the environmental cost, I look at the fact that cheaper energy, steel and safer mining conditions are the result of mountaintop removal mining.
However, if you're and environmentalist, you're likely not convinced by my argument,.
So, I've concocted a solution for you of which I approve.
Pool together your money and start purchasing up the mineral rights to mountains from underneath coal companies.
By doing this, you protect the mountains you love and are actually doing something productive and meaningful.
The private property rights system advocated by free marketers like myself can actually be used to your advantage.
The system in place is imperfect and free marketers and environmentalists can come together to make improvements. Eliminating imminent domain – an action of the state to seize private property – would curb some of the mining that takes place, and it's something free marketers could support.
Moreover, having a legal system where companies are held accountable for the damage they cause to people's health and property is something both groups could get behind.
However, banning the practice in totality would be detrimental to the economy at large.