Building PATH probably will not lead to a natural disaster tantamount to the Gulf oil spill, but the cost to the environment is not minimal. PATH will, for example, cross or require new rights-of-way through Harper's Ferry National Park, the Appalachian Trail, and the C&O Canal National Park. This isn't a disaster, but the swath and the 200 foot towers will detract from the natural beauty of those areas and set, or reinforce, a precedent that keeping the lights on in car lots in New Jersey is more important than preserving our nation's historical and natural areas.
The construction and maintenance of the PATH may not be, nor cause, a direct environmental disaster, but the continuing practice of coal mining, mountaintop removal, and valley fill are contributing to the decline of our state's natural beauty, road quality, water quality, health and appeal as a tourist destination.
In a June 22 article on The Charleston Gazette's Coal Tattoo blog, author Ken Ward Jr. reports that the coal industry contributed $307.3 million to the state of West Virginia through various taxes.
However, Mr. Ward goes on to explain that the state gave the coal industry $174 million in tax credits and subsidies, and an additional $113.7 million was spent by the state "to support units of government that regulate mining and for the repair of the state's coal haul roads."
Taking his figures from a report titled "The Impact of Coal on the West Virginia State Budget," issued by Downstream Strategies and the WV Center on Budget and Policy, Ward reports that the when all is said and done, coal mining actually costs the state of West Virginia nearly $97.5 million dollars a year. Thus, any rationale that suggests PATH is good for West Virginia because it will increase the need for coal and therefore bring more money to the state is, at best, shaky. Additionally, AEP is currently requesting at 17 percent increase in power rates for West Virginia customers. That money will come directly from the pockets of West Virginians to fund the construction of PATH so that folks further east can avoid power outages, instead of practicing conservation.
Proponents of increasing mining will surely offer evidence that the coal industry does indeed provide substantial revenue to West Virginia. There is no argument that coal mining creates jobs and puts food on the tables of West Virginia citizens. But, there is also no denying the human cost of coal mining. Coal mining is a deadly business. Desire for profit seduces some coal companies into neglecting miner safety. The possible human costs of PATH are spelled out in the oil rig explosion and the mine disasters. In order for AEP and the other companies involved with PATH to create more electricity to send along to the East Coast, more coal will have to be mined in West Virginia and other states. When the oil rig in the Gulf exploded, 11 workers lost their lives. Twenty-nine workers died at Montcoal, and 12 miners died at Sago. The more coal we ask our miners to dig, the more oil we ask the rig workers to pump, the more workers we are going to kill.
As nice as it would be to blame the people of New York and New Jersey for all the problems associated with mining, drilling, and the production of energy, it simply is not possible. Everyone who uses energy produced from oil and coal contributes to the problem, but we can help the entire Eastern Seaboard become more responsible by refusing to support PATH. Stop West Virginia from becoming New Jersey's extension cord. Oppose PATH and those who support it.
Williams teaches philosophy and ethics at Waynesburg University and lives in Kingwood. Lepp is a storyteller and author.