Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A struggle over a mountain

I'm guessing that those who believe faith can move mountains aren't thinking about Massey Energy's work in West Virginia.

The company, which mines coal through mountain top removal methods, recently found itself in a battle with local residents who desperately tried to prevent Massey from trimming the top off the last untouched Appalachian mountain.

Director Bill Haney does a thorough and convincing job of showing the impact of mountain top mining on the folks who occupy the valleys beneath ravaged or endangered peaks. It's not a pretty picture.

Eager to pose viable alternatives, the movie also campaigns for wind power, telling us that wind-generated energy is both economically and environmentally preferable to coal-fired power. The film also argues that green solutions would create more jobs than coal mining produces.

Haney has been criticized for spending too much time on Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a devoted environmentalist who joined West Virginia residents in the fight to preserve Coal River Mountain. And The Last Mountain could have benefited from more interviews with miners who are fearful of losing their jobs. Would they be absorbed into a wind-centered economy or are they out of luck?

Overall, though, the movie certainly raises one's ire, which is probably what Haney intended, and, yes, there's a sickening finality to mountain top mining. Reclamation efforts aside, even faith can't restore the top of a mountain that has been flattened.

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