Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Best-ever Symbol of Government Incompetence?

America's largest coal mine fire is the marquee for government ineffectiveness and environmental activism's false pretense.

Centralia, PA is home to America's largest coal mine fire -- still burning today since May of 1962.

Forty-nine years of government folly, environmentalist demonization, and media sensationalism have managed to fan the flames under Centralia, escalating the costs to end this ecological disaster from under $100,000 in the early sixties to over $600 million today.

Bureaucratic half-measures started in the 60's with a planned town dump in an old mine pit.  Regulations required that any openings to the mine be properly sealed with non combustible material. 

In May 1962 the local Volunteer Fire Company had been hired by the town council to clean up the landfill.  As was done in the past, Firemen set the dump ablaze, let it burn for a while, and then doused the fire, or so they thought.  Several days of flareups followed.  Finally to their horror they discovered the fire spread through an improperly filled hole in the rock pit, ignited a coal seam and flared into the coal mines below.

The first action by PA's Dept. of Environmental Resources in July 1962, was to drill bore holes to monitor the fire.  However this misstep provided a natural draft, aiding the fire's combustion.

By May 1969, the fire threatened homes.  Community leaders proposed surrounding it with a trench, but officials and agencies frittered away time, while failing to fund the $50,000 needed to complete the plan.  According to Tony Gaughan (quoted in the book Slow Burn), if the trench had been dug in three shifts per day instead of one, and if they had worked through the Labor Day holiday, the fire would have been contained. 

In 1978, state and federal governments expended $3.3 million attempting to douse the blaze to no avail.

National attention descended on Centralia in February 1981 when the ground collapsed under a 12 year old boy playing in his grandmother's backyard.  Todd Domboski survived by holding onto exposed tree roots in a 150 foot deep sinkhole until pulled to safety. 

Network media, Ted Koppel, and Time magazine led the environmentalist charge, blaming the disaster on the scourge called strip mining.

Although burning for over 19 years, environmentalists with their willing accomplices in national media quickly passed judgment and assigned blame to Interior secretary James Watt.  Eco-activist Joan Quigley (in her book The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy) wrote that Watt's resignation "accomplished more for Centralia than Todd Domboski, Concerned Citizens and three decades of federal mine reclamation laws combined."  One would think putting out the fire would do more for Centralia.

Watt was destroyed, yet no further activist effort was put forward to resolve the disaster.  In 1984 Congress appropriated $42 million for voluntary acquisition and relocation in Centralia.  By now $7 million was spent fighting the fire.  Eleven years later in 1995 $53 million was spent moving residents and fighting the fire with no resolution.

Today the Centralia fire burns under the town and in the surrounding hillsides on several fronts.  There is nary an eco-activist or carbon crusader in sight.  No, their new eco-hysteria is focused 90 short miles away in Dimock, PA.  Websites like ProPublica spread the rhetoric of fear for their new energy demon:  fracking.  Green minions blog with quotes like "stop these people before all of their creeks and ponds are filled with carcinogenic sludge," this while standing upwind of the noxious fumes and toxic gases released up through the back yards, basements, and streets of Centralia.

Websites like the Union of Concerned Scientists tout the new mantra, "Join the Cause," "Take Action," and most important "Donate Money."  Not money so they can clean up current environmental disasters.  No, they need money to lobby Congress to legislate further restrictions on the American domestic energy industry.  Yes, money so we can all pay more for our energy yet feel good about ourselves while funding nation states who despise the USA.

Carbon Crusader Superhero Al Gore neglected to mention the inconvenient truth that coal mine fires in China alone are producing 3% of the world's industrial CO2 emissions.  The largest fire in northern China produces the same carbon footprint as all the cars in the US.  Yet Mr. Gore would give China a pass on the Chicago Carbon Exchange.

What I find most astonishing is the lackluster zeal from the eco warriors.  Websites propagate a global demise from the black death of coal production, yet they are in lockstep support of Alfred Whitehouse, chief of the Reclamation Support Division of the federal Office of Surface Mining who said about the Centralia Fire, "It's too expensive to tackle, and we're not sure we can do it anyway."  We can't stop the fire yet they think it'll burn itself out in about 100 to 300 years.

Global scientists and the USGS don't fare much better.  Throwing out figures such as it would have cost $663 million to put out the Centralia fire in 1983, yet today they say $650 million would douse all the coal mine fires in America.  China contributes 3% of global CO2 caused by 20 million tons of coal fires burning annually -- or is it 200 million tons producing 12% of global greenhouse gas?  The USGS is currently estimating CO2 output from American Coal fires, yet they know the mercury output is equal to 25% of the output from all American Coal fired generators?

Centralia is a metaphor showcasing government failure while exposing environmental activists' true agenda.

Government's inability to solve the problem has extended the crisis and escalated the costs.  Their best effort is to put up a few warning signs and hope it goes away.

Silence is also deafening from the Green crowd.  When confronted with a real environmental disaster their inaction is morally repugnant.  Can't let toxic fumes or scorched earth stop them from their true purpose, fundraising!

Perhaps we should try a different solution before the golden anniversary of Centralia's great mine fire.

Deed this land over to the first group of American investors willing to build a Clean Coal generator in Centralia and allow them to mine the coal onsite economically to run it.  In less than one year the phoenix will rise in Centralia, the fire will be out, the generator will be running, toxic emissions will be reduced and hundreds of good paying jobs will be created in the plant and the soon to be rebuilt town, fueling a local economy, once again producing tax revenue.

AlanAszkler@aol.com is a God, Family, Country, Reagan Conservative who believes its time to get the politicians out of Politics and allow American Ingenuity to restore our economy with American exceptionalism.


Slow Burn, A photodocument of Centralia, PA", by Renee Jacobs and Intro by Margaret O. Kirk

"The Day the Earth Caved In: An American Mining Tragedy'', by Joan Quigley, published by Random House

Associated Press Article: "Centralia, the Pa. village above burning coal seam, is down to 5 houses"

Published: Friday, February 05, 2010 by Michael Rubinkam,

The Charleston Gazette Article: "The fire still burns: Centralia's last days"
Published February 8, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

Bloomberg News Article: "James Watt Fiddled as Mine Fire Burned Below Pennsylvania Town"
Review by Joan Oleck - April 4, 2007  

Time Magazine Article "Environment: The Price of Strip Mining" Monday, Mar. 22, 1971 http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,904921,00.html#ixzz1KYwJAH9Z

TreeHUGGER.com  http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/12/underground-coal-fire-centralia-started-1962-burns.php

Tribune Article: "Earth is on fire, douse the flames"
By KIRSTEN PETERS | Posted: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 7:05 am

ProPublica Article: "Frack Fluid Spill in Dimock Contaminates Stream, Killing Fish" by Abrahm Lustgarten Sep. 21, 2009, 5:09 p.m.


Published: March 23, 2007, 1:44 pm Lead Author: Claudia Kuenzer

Published: September 14, 2006, 3:08 pm Lead Author: Ida Kubiszewski Contributing Author: Cutler Cleveland

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