From The Wall Street Journal to GQ, national reporters are fascinated by the processes, politics, and economics of coal mining and have devoted significant acreage to covering it. It’s not a new story by any means, but there does seem to have been a spike in coverage during the twilight of the Bush administration, when the administration tried to relax the rules meant to reduce the environmental impact of mountaintop-removal mining. The Obama administration’s efforts to restore stricter oversight have kept the story going, although since Obama took office the story’s focus has shifted from environmental to political.
Coal country’s elected officials and unions have already played a central role in crafting the current energy and climate bills under consideration on Capitol Hill, and they will continue to play a central role in determining the fate of those bills. The political focus is understandable, of course, but consider this recent story from Politico about the GOP power politics in the region. There is plenty of information about how the party is “mining … anxieties” about coal’s contribution to the local economy in the form of jobs, but there are no mentions of the costs in extracts in terms of environmental degradation and public health.
Not all the focus has gone away from coal’s environmental impact, however. Coverage of polluted drinking water took off at the end of 2008; coal-ash storage ponds became the focus of national attention following the spills in Tennessee and Georgia; and more recently, there’s been quite a bit of interest in the carbon capture and storage demonstration project under way at the Mountaineer coal-fired power plant in West Virginia.
And to be fair, not all the national press coverage of the Ohio River Valley is related to coal. The Ohio River Valley made cameo appearances in installments of two award-winning series over the past year: “The Smokestack Effect,” by USA Today, and “Toxic Waters,” by The New York Times. There have also been occasional stories about bacterial pollution in the Ohio River and its tributaries, and stories about the local chemical industry following the explosion at the Bayer CropScience plant in West Virginia in 2008. But such coverage is fairly sparse.
When it comes to pollution, urban development, and wildlife issues, the Ohio River Valley is being overshadowed by two other ecosystems to the north and east: the Great Lakes and the Chesapeake Bay, respectively. Searching through the local ORV media, it doesn’t take long to see that there are a lot that of worthwhile stories the national media is missing. So if you have the time, get out of the nosebleed seats and sneak down to field level.