What’s In a Name?

Opinion by John McFerrin

The briefing paper that is the subject of the story on page 1 entitles itself “New Data: Atlantic Coast Pipeline Would Trigger Extensive Mountaintop Removal.”  As the document circulated, this title produced some head scratching.  Isn’t mountaintop removal that abomination that afflicts southern West Virginia that looks like this? That’s not what the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is doing, is it?

Technically speaking, it is.  The regulation that defines mountaintop removal does not require that any minimum amount be removed.  Were Dominion looking for coal, it would—at least according to the legal definition—be doing mountaintop removal.

Yet we still should not call what Dominion proposes “mountaintop removal.”  In the time it has been practiced, “mountaintop removal” has come to mean the practice that blasts off hundreds of feet of mountaintop, destroying land, water, and communities in the process.  If we start using it for other things, it loses its force as a description of the abomination that it is.

It’s the same reason we don’t say Donald Trump is Hitler.  Fully aware that over sixty million people would disagree, I am confident in saying that Donald Trump is an ego driver narcissist who was unprepared to be president and places the country in peril.  But he is not Hitler.  Hitler is Hitler.  Donald Trump is just a mistake, one which our country will probably survive. If we start saying things like “Donald Trump is another Hitler” we diminish the power of the term “Hitler” to describe a great evil.  If we start describing every time dirt and rock is removed from a ridgeline as “mountaintop removal” we diminish the power of that term to describe the reality of what is happening in southern West Virginia.

What Dominion is doing is harmful, likely to cause extensive damage that it appears to have no plan on how it would avoid.  We are right to be concerned about it.  It is just not “mountaintop removal.”