FitzGerald, Gerry The Pie Man

ISBN 13: 9781601459169

The Pie Man

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9781601459169: The Pie Man

Set in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, The Pie Man is the story of a woman's fight to save her marriage to an abusive husband, and her grandparents' farm from the destruction of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

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About the Author:

GERRY FITZGERALD has owned his own advertising agency for the last 25 years in Springfield, Massachusetts. He is a Viet Nam veteran and a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism/ Northwestern University, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He lives in East Longmeadow, MA with his wife Robin and children Thomas and Joanna. The Pie Man is his first novel.

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Foreword

When I began writing The Pie Man in 1999, the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining appeared to be on life support. A courageous federal judge, Charles H. Haden II, sitting on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, in Charleston, sided with the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy and other environmentalists who had challenged the practice of mountaintop removal strip mining through a suit brought under the Federal Clean Water Act. Judge Haden agreed that burying streams and hollows under hundreds of feet of sand and rocks did in fact violate the environmental standards of the Clean Water Act. On appeal, his ruling was overturned in 2001 on the grounds that federal courts had no jurisdiction, but in avoiding a decision on the substance of the matter, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia left the door invitingly open for state litigation, which was not the outcome the mining industry was looking for.

Judge Haden's ruling in March of 1999 had an immediate effect on MTR with the layoff three days later of 380 miners at the huge Dal-Tex surface mining complex of Hobet Mining, in Logan County, West Virginia. The layoffs and the subsequent work stoppage at Dal-Tex's 3,100 acre Pigeon Roost Hollow surface mine, sent an immediate and unequivocal message of the seriousness of the ruling (and the dire consequences the State and the local economies would pay). The most telling impact of the ruling came several months later with the beginning of the dismantling of Hobet's monstrous, $100million drag line and the closing of the entire Dal-Tex complex. The environmentalists and the mountain-keepers had reason to cheer.

Going back now to try to piece together the events that brought about the re-emergence of mountaintop removal mining in the last ten years entails a frustrating search through a long list of agency rulings and opinions, backdropped by suits and counter-suits, appeals and over-rules, the sum total of which is much more easily described as the Bush Administration.

The energy companies, their lobbyists, and their local politicians found a willing and powerful ally in George W. Bush, and while it took a few years to get the game plan installed in all the pertinent agencies, like a cancerous tumor, mountaintop removal coal mining returned with a vengeance to West Virginia. King coal continues to rule Appalachia -- as it has for the last 120 years. If I'd waited a few years for the Bush administration, the process of securing a MTR variance would have been much easier (and consumed fewer pages) for the Ackerly Coal Company of my story.

Today there are dozens of mountaintop strip mines operating in West Virginia that were permitted and opened during the Bush years. The mines are burying hundreds of miles of streambeds under rock, sand and timber, leaching sulfates and selenium into the ground water, fouling drinking wells, cracking the foundations and walls of nearby homes, producing irreversible flooding perils, and rendering nearby communities all but unlivable. And the once-beautiful, majestic, lushly forested mountains are reduced to barren wastelands, dusty scabs that would only be tolerated in Appalachia, where the population is thin, the people powerless and poor, and where the coal industry has been sucking out the wealth since the beginning of the last century.

Environmentalists and residents of the coal camp communities had much reason for optimism with the onset of the Obama administration. The new President said all the right things during the campaign and in the early days of his administration, to the point of giving the impression that the permanent eradication of mountaintop removal was a done deal as soon as Barack could get around to it after dealing with several higher priority issues. But the collapse of the economy and the financial system, along with the coaching of the powerful and deep-pocketed-campaign-contributing energy lobbyists, along with the simple realities of big government, high unemployment, soaring energy cost priorities have reaffirmed the irrefutable fact that in America, Appalachia is still Appalachia when it comes to politics.

Some permits have been suspended for further review, and much discussion has taken place with regard to interpretation of the regulations governing valley fills and which permitting process should the governing agencies adhere to, but after all the campaign pandering and the conviction of the stump speeches, the nearly inaudible murmuring of the administration over the issue of mountaintop removal coal mining, suggests some major league hedging, and that's an ominous sign for the opponents of MTR.

Currently there are 48 new mountaintop removal mines permitted for West Virginia. Another 105 new sites are permitted for Kentucky, and an additional handful in Tennessee and Virginia. In West Virginia, the new MTR sites permitted total 42,715 acres of land to be destroyed, mountains that will never again be mountains, surrounded by hundreds of miles of streams that will disappear, amid dozens of communities that will become uninhabitable. It could never happen anywhere but in Appalachia, and that, quite simply, is not fair to the people who live there. It never has been.

For information and to sense the outrage, spend some time on the websites listed below. To really experience the powerlessness, voicelessness and frustration of poor people from a poor state making a noble fight to try to protect their small, insignificant, undervalued, out-of-mind, piece of America from destruction, watch a film called Burning The Future: Coal In America.

Gerry FitzGerald
July 2009

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