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Making environmentalism divisive

| Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE, Ohio

In May, Murray Energy, which sits along the old National Pike here in eastern Ohio, told nearly 1,500 workers at five of its West Virginia mines that their jobs were eliminated.

In Ohio, 249 Murray jobs were gone; nearly 170 employees were out of work in Illinois.

The announcement wasn't an isolated one. Mines are being boarded up and thousands of coal jobs are vanishing across America, in part because of competition from abundant natural gas but in larger part because of new federal regulations limiting carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

One month later, Murray filed two lawsuits against the U.S. EPA to halt its rewriting and expanding of the definition of “waters of the United States.”

The energy company said the change is unconstitutional and not only reflects an unprecedented expansion of federal regulatory authority but also is one of the largest federal land grabs in history.

According to the Obama administration's EPA, any area that is wet, or has the potential to be wet, would be subject to the Clean Water Act.

When Congress adopted the Clean Water Act in 1972, it never intended to allow room for regulatory creep. Certainly the act was not put in place to divide the country politically; in fact, it was supported by congressional Democrats and Republicans alike.

Caring about the environment was an American thing back in the 1960s and '70s, when pollution clogged our rivers and streams and litter piled up on our highways and streets; you felt patriotic about it.

Today's environmentalists — the kind who look at “climate change” as a religion preaching that non-believers will burn in hell — have won; Appalachian jobs, people, communities and families have lost.

We all used to be in this together, cleaning up pollution and litter, punishing companies that did bad things in the night — but retaining the industries that provided jobs that kept generations of families together in the communities where they lived.

Growing up, there wasn't a kid I knew who wasn't impacted by the “crying Indian” ad of 1971, in which an American Indian paddled his canoe on a river past gritty smokestacks and floating pollution. As he stepped onshore, he was pelted with a bag of garbage that landed at his feet. A close-up of his face showed a single tear, as an announcer intoned: “People start pollution, people can stop it.”

Today, liberal elites, academics and coastal progressives believe they are the only ones who can speak with authority about the environment, and are the only purists on that issue.

Stuck in their “green movement” ivory towers, they do not understand that the things they preach have long been part of our culture; instead, they use those as wedge issues to drive up votes in elections.

Republicans take the biggest hit on environmentalism, which is interesting because conservatism means to conserve permanent things; evangelicals, one of the GOP's biggest voting blocs, believe they have a duty to conserve, preserve, and restore Creation until Christ returns.

The blame for turning environmental stewardship into a politically poisoned well rests with Al Gore; he has pushed people needlessly further to each of the extreme sides of the issue, ruining any serious discussion or an exchange of ideas from which all of us could benefit.

A couple of years ago I was waiting for my kids to finish whitewater rafting at Ohiopyle when I decided to shop for some family gifts at a local shop. The bill was more than $200, a nice sum for a small business.

The young lady ringing up the sale proceeded to place my purchases in a used bag that had a huge hole in it. When I asked her if I could have another bag without a hole, she launched into a loud tirade — including finger-pointing — about how I was one of “those people” who don't believe in “the movement” and how I must clearly “hate the Earth.”

There were no purchases made that day. And I felt badly for the young lady, not just because she lost her commissions but because she suddenly had a personal glimpse into how it feels to have your wallet impacted by politically correct environmentalism.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).

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