Archive for December 8th, 2008

Bush’s Advent message on Appalachian coal: "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low"

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Just in time for last Sunday’s readings at Advent liturgies of Isaiah 40:4, on December 2 the White House and EPA approved the final issuance by the Department of the Interior of industry-backed changes in the 25-year-old stream “buffer zone” rule.  The revised rule, which the NYT describes as one of “the most contentious of all the regulations emerging from the White House in President Bush’s last weeks in office”, will make it much easier for coal companies to fill in streams and valleys with the rock and dirt produced by mountaintop removal mining operations.  As I described in an earlier post, these mining practices create direct physical effects on nearby communities, and produce extensive and long-lasting alterations to streamflows and aquatic life, leaching of heavy metals into streams and wells and leave behind dangerous leach ponds.  

It is clear from a review of the proceedings that the decisions of the DOI and EPA were based on the premise that mountaintop removal mining would proceed, with stream buffers not being required if the alternative to stream and valley fill were not economically practicable.  Largely because of the damage such mountaintop removal and fill operations have been proven to do to the interests of local and state residents in stream and groundwater quality and flows, the changes were strongly opposed by the public and by the governors of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Nobody seems to have swallowed the rather Orwellian announcement by the DOI’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement that the new rule will “tighten” restrictions on excess spoil, coal mine waste, and mining activities in or near streams – least of all the coal firms, who praised the new rule!

One wonders if in all the litigation over federal rules, residents who bear the impacts of mountaintop mining have considered bringing direct claims against the mining firms for damage under the common law – as opposed to struggling over the substance of federal and state regulations and whether regulators and prosecutors will try to enforce them.

While I noted this issue last week, I was gently reminded of President Bush’s Christmas gift to the coal companies by the perversely coincidental appropriateness of a church reading on Sunday (the second Sunday of Advent) of Isaiah 40:4:

Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.

Bush and the coal companies are doing God’s work!

Stop those pirates/terrorists! (But ignore those “great bands of brigands” whose navies and prosecutors are needed.)

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Jonathan Adler at The Volokh Conspiracy refers us to yet another editorialist (this time not Bret Stephens of the WSJ but Douglas Burgess Jr. at the Washington Post) saying that the Somali “pirates are terrorists” and calling for changes in US to treat pirates as “enemies of mankind”, greater use of the US navy, and for an expansion of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (which the US has rejected as a threat to the freedom of the US and its officials to torture people).

But the shippers, the cargo owners and insurers seem to be doing little to protect their assets, so why should we do it for them?  How much easier it is to find threats that supposedly warrant government action than to analyze the justice, efficiency or possible blowback in having the government act in place of the private interests whose assets are at risk.

Here are my comments to Jon:

Jon, can you see how the “war on terror” continues to morph into a long-term war on common sense and taxpayers’ pocketbooks? Not every problem requires a hue and cry about “terrorists!”, much less a government “solution” that further socializes risks and begs any analysis of the problem and of the role of government in it. Let the shippers defend their own cargoes.

We saw a similarly unperceptive and even more breathless op-ed by WSJ’s neocon Bret Stephens two weeks ago.

In the context of the US’s counterproductive engagement with nascent Somali regimes, and calls by shippers (and other lovers of the state) for governments to provide protection, let us not forget the ironies that St. Augustine pointed to centuries ago, about states (the biggest pirates) hypocritically talking up the outrages of much smaller brigands:

Set aside justice, then, and what are kingdoms but great bands of brigands? For what are brigands’ bands but little kingdoms? For in brigandage the hands of the underlings are directed by the commander, the confederacy of them is sworn together, and the pillage is shared by law among them. And if those ragamuffins grow up to be able enough to keep forts, build habitations, possess cities, and conquer adjoining nations, then their government is no longer called brigandage, but graced with the eminent name of a kingdom, given and gotten not because they have left their practices but because they use them without danger of law. Elegant and excellent was that pirate’s answer to the great Macedonian Alexander, who had taken him; the king asking him how he durst molest the seas so, he replied with a free spirit: “How darest thou molest the whole earth? But because I do it only with a little ship, I am called brigand: thou doing it with a great navy art called emperor.”

St. Augustine, City of God, Book IV (410 A.D.)