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Sun Jun 10, 2018, 12:15 PM

The Resource Curse of Appalachia

'Jason Clark has lived near Amity, Pa., in the southwestern part of the state, since he was born. He likes to call urban Americans “hypocrites.” At 38, he’s the president of the Pork Association in Washington County, which sits at the edge of Appalachia. City dwellers are consumers, as he sees it; they gobble up resources like meat and coal and natural gas without knowing where they come from or thinking much about the toll that rural Americans pay to supply them.

There’s a term for that toll. Economists call it the resource curse, or the paradox of plenty. Since the 1990s, political scientists and development experts have used the resource curse to explain why countries richest in fossil fuels tend to remain poor. The problem, they contend, lies in the toxic impact of large influxes of cash: Easy money displaces more productive economic activity and fosters weak governments.

Typically, scholars apply the term to poorer continents, yet it affects America also, and nowhere more so than Appalachia. Oil was discovered in western Pennsylvania in the 1850s. And for more than a century, coal companies have clear-cut hollows to burrow into the earth below.

Corporations influenced local politicians and owned local businesses. They set the price of bread and the number of hours in a workday. For a time, these companies also supplied jobs and, by extension, built communities as churches and schools grew up around mines. Yet education wasn’t really a focus. For laborers, the best-paid positions were underground. They required high levels of specialized skill best learned on the job.

Over the past several decades, as market forces and dwindling supplies have pushed coal companies into bankruptcy, they’ve abandoned towns, leaving behind the ravages of slag heaps and thousands of miles of streams and rivers polluted by acid mine drainage. Drive along the border between Pennsylvania and West Virginia and you’ll see waterways that are the bright orange of hunters’ vests. Neither the state nor towns can afford to pay the cleanup costs.

Fracking, however, promised to be different. When the natural gas boom arrived in the region more than a decade ago, it came with assurances that natural gas would burn cleaner than coal, releasing only half the amount of carbon into the atmosphere. Its proponents also argued that after a time, its environmental footprint would be so small that it would disappear into the rural landscape. For Appalachia’s residents, who’d experienced generations of mining and drilling on their farms and were well versed in the language of mineral rights, fracking brought with it the possibility of finally profiting off their land by signing lucrative leases to the oil and gas beneath their feet.

In the seven years I’ve spent reporting in southwestern Pennsylvania, I’ve watched the oil and gas industry build influence in Washington County by buying up farm livestock at the 4-H competition at the county fair and placing favorable articles in local papers — paid content that featured “shaleionaires,” a handful of farmers who’ve profited mightily off drilling.

Such corporate tactics can sow discord among neighbors who find themselves winners and losers in a lottery driven by energy markets. With an influx of cash from signing mineral leases, some larger landowners have gotten rich, while neighbors with less land pay the price for oil and gas extraction. These hidden costs range from the expense of car repairs that result from roads ruined by truck traffic, to the more troubling health consequences of living next door to leaking pools of industrial waste — including dying animals and sick children.

Struck by these and other forms of environmental injustice, many rural Americans have found they have nowhere to turn for protection. In Pennsylvania, government agencies and legal protections can do little to help. State environmental investigators, who are underpaid and inadequately trained, often abandon the public sector for more lucrative jobs in oil and gas. Federal agents, hamstrung by budget cuts and now under siege in the Trump administration’s campaign against environmental regulation, don’t have the mandate to hold drillers accountable for shoddy practices.

In Pennsylvania, a band of citizen activists has fought back. Among them are retired coal miners and steelworkers whose activism is rooted in the long history of labor unions in the state. Historically Democrats, most are also socially conservative hunters and fishers. Many were Trump voters who adhere to neither party and resist easy political classification. They view themselves not as environmentalists — a word that many see as carrying a dubious “liberal” agenda — but as conservationists, who believe in the wise use of resources for the benefit of humankind. . .

“It’s not a historical accident that the Pennsylvania Constitution now places citizens’ environmental rights on par with their political rights,” Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a conservative Republican and Vietnam combat veteran, wrote in his landmark decision. Pennsylvania’s long history of resource extraction has given its citizens a sophisticated understanding of what energy really costs.

An abundance of coal, oil and natural gas has been, at best, a mixed blessing for rural Americans. This has helped to turn them against not only the federal government for failing to protect them but also their fellow Americans, whose appetite for consuming energy never seems to slacken.'


https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/09/opinion/sunday/appalachia-environment-resource-curse.html?

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Reply The Resource Curse of Appalachia (Original post)
elleng Jun 2018 OP
SharonClark Jun 2018 #1
Quemado Jun 2018 #2
Midnight Writer Jun 2018 #3

Response to elleng (Original post)

Sun Jun 10, 2018, 12:37 PM

1. Another example of people who cut off their nose to spit their face

"Historically Democrats, most are also socially conservative hunters and fishers. Many were Trump voters who adhere to neither party and resist easy political classification. They view themselves not as environmentalists — a word that many see as carrying a dubious “liberal” agenda — but as conservationists, who believe in the wise use of resources for the benefit of humankind."

What a lie. They do adhere to party and political classification and they aren't conservationists. They eat at the trough of corporate/GOP overlords, reject 'liberals' ideas, and then wonder why they get screwed.

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Sun Jun 10, 2018, 01:42 PM

2. This is so classic

People voting against their own best economic interests in exchange for culture issues.

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Response to elleng (Original post)

Sun Jun 10, 2018, 03:17 PM

3. It strikes me that Appalachia would be a great place to farm cannabis. Too bad it's illegal.

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