- - - from the heart of the plateau - - -

By John McFerrin


Cynicism vs. an Open Mind

Governor Underwood has appointed me on a task force to advise him on mountaintop removal. He has asked that the task force report to him by December 1, 1998. Now what?

From the makeup of the task force, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that I am a token. Although I do not know all the members, of the ones I do know it is apparent that I am the only one who shares the Conservancy’s point of view on this issue. Although it has been a month and the task force has not yet met, it is already the conventional wisdom that I am the nominal environmental representative, appointed to give a whiff of balance to the proceedings.

Governor Underwood’s past policies color my view. His entire administration has been nothing but one big giveaway to the coal industry. It is difficult to imagine that a task force which he appoints would be anything other than a sham. The most cynical view is that the task force is a public relations gimmick to appear to address a matter that is of great public interest while continuing business as usual.

It is my view that mountaintop removal mining, as it is presently practiced, is illegal. Even were it not illegal, it would be unwise. Even were it environmentally benign, it still would not be the foundation for the long term prosperity of our state. Even if it provides some short term employment for some and some profits for a few foreign investors, it does not build anything for the future. It does nothing for the future of the state and its people. While doing nothing for the people in the long run, it is ruining individual people’s lives right now.

Yet here I am on a task force with people who have spent their professional lives apologizing for this destructive industry. Who would not be cynical?

In spite of this, I am determined to resist the destructive force of cynicism. In spite of the conventional wisdom that the task force is designed to bless business as usual, I plan to keep an open mind.

In this world of contentiousness, there is one abiding principal that we must all cling to. We must never forget the inherent goodness of our opponents. We must never forget that they, too, are human beings who struggle as we all do what is right. Even those who have spent a lifetime apologizing for the coal industry have it within themselves to reach wise conclusions, to help Governor Underwood to a sound public policy.

Even if it is the conventional wisdom that the task force exists to bless the status quo, I am not approaching it in that way. I plan to give it my best shot, to try my best to help Governor Underwood find a wise path. To do otherwise would be to insult those who disagree and to deny their basic humanity. _