By Phil Hall | April 1, 2004

“Razing Appalachia” is a leisurely documentary about the compelling 1998-99 struggle between the Arch Coal Inc. mining monolith and a band of villagers from Blair, West Virginia. The coal mining company wanted to get governmental approval to expand its strip mine operations while the 40 families that made up the village, backed West Virginian environmentalists, tried to stop them from expanding into their backyard.

Stuck in the middle of this fight are the coal miners who belong to the United Mine Workers of America. The union and its rank and file do not want to see the mining jobs disappear, which the coal company threatens to make happen if the expansion is blocked. While the Blair residents are clearly sympathetic to the miners, the miners are furious that anyone would interfere with their livelihoods.

Strangely, filmmaker Sasha Edwards fails to ask the hard questions on either side of the issue. The film allows Arch Coal to present fairly ludicrous propaganda about the company’s ecological concerns without questioning the claims being made. Likewise, the coal executives are never quizzed on why their corporation has never made any substantial reinvestment in the West Virginia communities despite decades of extraordinary profits–the miners are clearly living in substandard conditions, a point which the union officials also don’t seem to notice. In regards to the villagers, no one is asked about the absence of their elected officials in standing up for the rights of the local residents. Where are the Congressional or state representatives for this region and where do they stand?

To its credit, “Razing Appalachia” offers an in-depth look at the turbulent history of the region, including the 1921 armed insurrection by miners seeking to organize a union and the response by the U.S. military that included dropping bombs from airplanes on the strikers (the only time the military engaged in aerial bombing of civilians within the continental United States). The film also provides ample opportunity to see the lack of economic development in today’s Appalachia. It is impossible not to get angry at the absence of interest in Washington for bringing jobs, educational opportunities and economic diversity to Appalachia, especially when the Congress can pull $87 billion out of its hat and flush it down that toilet called Iraq.

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