From high to low: the value of moutnaintops and wetlands

First, I wish to stress that while this web-log comments on political issues and on politicians, it is not intended to be a Democratic blog or a Republican blog. I am sure my general political views come through whether I intend them to or not, but my primary purpose is to focus on justice. Such a broad concept cannot be empirically defined, especially when it comes to issues affecting commerce. In our society, there will always be a tension between the right to make a profit and the protection of other personal values that most tend to hold dear. For example, we value truth in advertising and do not want people defrauded, but we also value advertisers having free speech and the ability to portray their products in the most positive light. There is a balance in that tension that we accept which falls short of complete honesty in ads. Where I usually fall in my posts is with the underdog. With the individual consumer over the business. This is because the individual consumer has no advertising budget whereas most businesses do.

So too with the environment. We would all agree that we should be good stewards of the environment, but what that means on a day to day practical level is in tension with business. I was glad to see this article in today’s H-L where Jonathan Miller has brought the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining into the spotlight. This is an incredibly touchy subject in Kentucky and I applaud any candidate that will address the issue.

Both my family and my wife’s family originated in Eastern Kentucky. We go back to visit often. I must dispute those politicians that say flattening mountains brings value because they can now be used for shopping centers, residences, airports, etc. I do not see this happening. I am certain that a few of the stripped mountains have been developed, but the majority simply sit; a wound that refuses to heal. Furthermore, even if every flattened mountain was developed commercially, I would find that equally disheartening. I am revived by the view of nature, of mountains, of clear streams. While I like to buy stuff at supermarkets, I am not revived by the view of “Wal-Mart”. I, for one, am willing to pay more for electricity if I know that those beautiful mountains will be there to revive me. Mountains have practical value, also, as watersheds, so dispensing with them so casually has ramifications on many levels.

Another story from yesterday highlighted this same tension between business and the environment. There, Ball Home’s developed protected wetlands without a permit. Jim Ball would like us to believe that it was merely an issue of getting a piece of paper. Actually, getting that paper involves presenting a plan to the Corps of Engineers that provides for sufficient protection of the wetlands while allowing for development. It is a process that is supposed to create that balance of which I speak. It costs developers more to build in a way that preserves the function of the wetlands. So, there is temptation to cut those corners to maximize profit. Wetlands have both scenic value and practical value. They are natures way of minimizing flooding and cleaning water of impurities. So, it was about more than a mere piece of paper.

Pursuing justice includes stewardship of the environment. It encompasses upholding current environmental laws and scrutinizing those laws to see if they strike the right balance. Pursuit of justice includes holding our elected officials accountable for those laws and their enforcement. Because of how slowly the political process works and because of the pervasive spirit of apathy that seems to characterize this generation, too many mountains and too many wetlands will be gone before we fully recognize the value of each, thus making justice in this arena elusive as well.

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