Coal Miners Pick a Fight With Girl Scouts. This Will Not End Well

Environmental concerns be damned. In many areas of the country, coal is still king.
Coal being strip mined in Kentucky. (Lexington Herald-Leader/Getty)
Aug 17, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Camp Pennyroyal has been a popular Girl Scout camp for families across Kentucky and Indiana for the past 55 years. “Now, another fixture of the local landscape, coal mining, may be cutting in. A strip mine proposed by a nearby company, Western Kentucky Minerals, could soon surround the camp, altering its bucolic vista for years,” reports The New York Times.

“Once you clear-cut those trees,” said Lora Tucker, the chief executive of Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, looking 300 yards out into the camp countryside, “it will never be the same.” 

A quick look at the strip mining entry in The Encyclopedia of Earth makes it clear why that’s the case. “Strip mining is a type of surface mining that involves excavating earth, rock, and other material to uncover a tabular, lens-shaped, or layered mineral reserve. The mineral extracted is usually coal or other rocks of sedimentary origin. The mineral reserve is extracted after the overlying material, called overburden is removed . . . The overburden is moved by explosives, draglines, bucketwheel excavators, stripping shovels, dozers, and other equipment.”

MORE: Obama’s ‘War on Coal’ Drives GOP to Take Up Arms

That definitely doesn’t sound like a great match for Camp Pennyroyal, which the Girl Scouts of Ketuckiana describe as a 180-acre camp that “includes an 8-acre lake, three year-round buildings, platform tents, screened cabins, and primitive camping areas. The most centrally located camp in our council, it is an excellent camp for all age groups.”

But coal is king in Kentucky. The Times notes that, “Coal supplies 96 percent of Kentucky’s electricity, most prominently in the eastern part of the state, where big coal producers reign.”

The Kentucky Coal Education website explains the long history the state has with the mineral: “Around April 13, 1750 Dr. Thomas Walker was the first recorded person to discover and use coal in Kentucky. In 1820 the first commercial mine, known as the 'McLean drift bank' opened in Kentucky, near the Green River and Paradise in Muhlenberg County; and we have been mining coal ever since. Coal has been used in Kentucky for over 250 years and probably longer if you count the native American Indians.”

Plus, there’s the monetary aspect of things. Tim Rhye, a developer for Western Kentucky Minerals, has said that some property owners “stand to make up to $500,000 from mineral rights . . . and depending on the price of coal, the county could earn millions from fees.”

And in our current economy, money speaks louder than ever. Just yesterday, The Courier-Journal reported that, “Kentucky coal producers have reached an agreement to export 9 million tons of coal annually to India for the next 25 years in a $7 billion deal that is a boost to the region’s sagging mining industry.”

Summing things up, The Times article quotes Lora Tucker as saying, “The best-case scenario is that we can use it [the camp] as a learning environment. Maybe we’ve got some budding environmental scientists there that want to grow up and really look at sustainable energy.”

A nice thought, but it sounds like Camp Pennyroyal’s pastoral surroundings will never be quite the same.

What are you views on strip mining? Do you think Kentucky's economy is more important than preserving the Girl Scout's camp?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email

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