By John Ballard
Next time you see one of those beautiful, slick propaganda pieces commercial messages from the coal industry that may look like public service announcements, remember INSTITUTE INDEX: The real obscenity of mountaintop removal by Sue Sturgis in Facing South.
Erica and Rully must bathe their daughter, age 5, in contaminated water that is the color of tea. Their water has been tested and contains high levels of arsenic. The family attributes this water problem primarily to the blasting which they believe has disrupted the water table and cracked the casing in their well, allowing seepage of heavy metals into their water, and also to the runoff from the mountaintop removal sites surrounding their home. The coal company that mines the land around their home has never admitted to causing this problem, but they do supply the family with bottled water for drinking and cooking. Contaminated and colored water has occurred in other coalfield communities.
Go now and check out the tawdry details.
They are obscene, sure enough, but in the political sense of the word.
An award-winning coal-mining activist was questioned for 45 minutes by police on suspicion of child pornography after U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn's energy and mineral resources subcommittee decided a photo she submitted of a child in foul bathwater was inappropriate.
Maria Gunnoe of West Virginia had been invited by Lamborn � a Colorado Springs Republican and the subcommittee's chairman � to testify at his hearing Friday on the Spruce Coal Mine in her state. It was the fourth time Gunnoe had been in front of the committee and the second time she had been there at the behest of Lamborn.
Gunnoe, a grandmother, said that when she has spoken to the committee previously, she never felt as if members made eye contact, so she decided to bring a photo by a freelance photojournalist of a child taking a bath in dirty water � allegedly polluted by coal mining � to put up on the panels above her head.
"I was drawn to the photo because I think it really captured what happened here," Gunnoe said from her home Tuesday.
Lamborn � who leads the energy and mineral resources subcommittee under the House Committee on Natural Resources � said he heard about the photo before the hearing and decided to pull it from the planned presentation without looking at it. As chairman of the subcommittee, he is in charge of the hearing, the witnesses and the staff.
"I accept the judgment of professional staff," Lamborn said Tuesday. "If it's inappropriate, I don't think I should be viewing it. The fewer people who viewed it, the better."
Lamborn on Tuesday said he still hadn't seen the photo and didn't intend to. As committee rules dictate, Gunnoe e-mailed the photo to the GOP committee staffers about 8 a.m., two hours before the hearing started. When she arrived on Capitol Hill, she was told by the same staffers that the photo was inappropriate and she could not display it during her testimony.
"I asked them why, and they just kept saying it was inappropriate. There were no more answers than that," Gunnoe said. "I just let it go because the hearing was about to start."
The photo by award-winning photographer Katie Falkenberg was part of a photo essay about the effects of mountaintop removal coal mining. It is taken from above a 5-year-old in West Virginia bathing in murky orange water. The child's face is not identifiable, and Falkenberg says the parents were in the room when the photo was taken and granted permission for the photo to be used at the hearing.