Movie Star Misses Mark on Mining


Movie stars with advocacy agendas are a menace to society. Their charisma, looks, and access to a mass audience make them natural persuaders, but their policy preferences are almost always harmful.

Take Ashley Judd. She’s a model/actress, which is the only reason that the National Press Club allowed her a podium last Wednesday, before an audience of reporters and policy wonks, to speak about her cause du jour—mountain top removal coal mining (MTR). 

As its name would suggest, MTR is a mining technique whereby the tops of mountains are blasted off in order to get at underlying coal seams. It’s anathema to environmentalists, but it’s sanctioned by the Congress and local governments, and it’s absolutely essential if coal producers in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia are to remain competitive. Without MTR, Appalachian states would lose jobs to low-cost producers west of the Mississippi. 

Although Judd is only a marginal celebrity, I can attest to her acting talents. On three separate occasions during her well-rehearsed speech at the National Press Club, she produced tears to emphasize her indignation over coal companies “rape of Appalachia.” The apparent emotion was as moving as it was misplaced. 

In fact, Judd has misidentified the victims. It’s the miners, not the mountains, whose plight merits a Hollywood spokeswoman. President Obama is waging a war on coal that threatens to devastate whole communities. 

Two months ago, the Environmental Protection Agency established new regulations that would outlaw future MTR operations in order to protect a short-lived insect. To put it another way, the EPA is trading jobs for bugs.

Judd referenced this regulatory crackdown when she asked the audience to write to the EPA and demand that it shut down the Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, W.Va. Judd claims to oppose MTR on behalf of “mountain people.” But when I heard from citizens of Logan County, they had entirely differently ideas about energy policy. 

To Ashley Judd, the Spruce No. 1 Mine is an “environmental genocide.” To Diane Kish, a fourth generation West Virginian from Logan County, it’s the source of 260 jobs paying an average $62,500 salary. Kish was one of many “mountain people” who testified at an EPA public hearing about the Spruce No. 1 Mine on May 18 at the Charleston Civic Center. She asked the EPA to “give us back our permit. Let us smile. Les us raise our families.” 

Of course, coal miners also gave testimony, but so did a number of entrepreneurs whose businesses depend on the coal industry. After noting that property taxes from coal mines contribute millions of dollars to local education, Logan County School Superintendent Wilma Zigmond concluded, "Coal keeps the lights on and our schools running." 

Judd would have you believe that these testimonials in support of MTR are the result of the coal companies’ “denial, sleight of hand, and incessant propaganda.” According to Judd, there’s a conspiracy afoot, whereby “industries are kept out [of Appalachian states] by coal company collusion to keep people dependent on coal.” This is, of course, a fantasy. 

Unfortunately, it’s a dangerous fantasy. The political impetus for the EPA's crackdown on MTR doesn’t originate from “mountain people,” but instead from “Huffington Post-people,” whose passions are flamed by know-nothing celebrities like Ashley Judd. Thanks to Judd’s anti-coal agitprop, President Obama has the political cover to forsake Appalachian livelihoods.