OF PRINCIPALITIES AND POWERS - “West Virginia Fruits”

(01/16/2002)

By Tony Russell

My friend Melvin Anglebee follows the fortunes of energy corporations the way most men follow baseball teams, and monitors oil and gas production like a fan tracking batting averages. So who better to help me understand the implications of the unfolding Enron scandal? I gave him a call.

“Are all these revelations giving you second thoughts on the wisdom of having Enron dictate energy and economic policy for the United States?” I began.

He snorted. “Certainly not. This has all been blown out of proportion. We need to keep things in perspective, and remember the contributions energy corporations have always made to our society. Unfortunately, the American public has no sense of history.”

“What aspect of history did you have in mind?” I asked.

“You’re as bad as the rest! You don’t have to look any farther than your own backyard!” he said in exasperation. Here in Wirt, Ritchie, Calhoun, and Gilmer Counties we’re sitting smackdab on top of one of the world’s first major oil discoveries.”

“And?” I said.

“Just look around you,” he directed. “Growing, vibrant communities. Healthy, prosperous citizens. Broad, beautiful highways. An elaborate infrastructure. With careful corporate stewardship, all that wealth has made a lasting impact.”

“Do you think so?” I asked.

He was warming to his topic. “It’s obvious,” he said. “But don’t just focus on our part of the state. Look at the southern coalfields. That’s the thing in its purest form. Total domination of the economy by a single industry for a century and a half, right down through the present day. They started with the largest, richest coal deposits in the world-a resource so vast that a king would turn green with envy. Look what they’ve done with it, what they’ve made of the region. They deserve every bit of credit for what it’s become.”

“Which is…?” I asked.

“Nothing less than one of the cultural and commercial centers of the entire eastern half of the United States,” he said triumphantly.

“I think I see where you’re heading with this,” I said thoughtfully. “Logan, Mingo, McDowell ….”

“Exactly,” he said. “The very names conjure up the images I’m looking for. Beautiful mountain vistas unsullied by the hand of man, maintained in all their natural glory by careful mining practices. Streams so pure and clear you can dip your hands in them and drink. Thriving towns, wonderful schools, and county governments remarkable for their honesty and forward-thinking. An industry renowned for its long, honorable history of enlightened labor practices.”

“Your point, I take it, is that Enron has just been doing on a national scale what energy corporations have always done in West Virginia,” I ventured.

“You’ve got it,” he said. “The Bible says, ‘By their fruits shall ye know them.’ Just look at their fruits in West Virginia, and pray that they can do the same thing for the rest of the country.”

“Melvin,” I said, “it appears your prayers have been answered.”


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