A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


Augean Cleanup on Aisle Six







It’s been widely observed that the next president will be left with an enormous cleanup task. At one point, Vice President-elect Joe Biden compared it to cleaning the Augean Stables.


He was referring to the humblest of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, a Greek myth dating from before 600 B.C. Hercules took on the impossible tasks in order to save the kingdom. Most of them involved great and noble feats, such as stealing golden apples, or capturing Cerberus, or dealing with the pet creatures of the war god Ares.


In contrast, the task of cleaning the Augean stables was a humble and undignified job. The wealthy King Augaes had allowed the filth to pile up in his stables to the point where they threatened the entire kingdom. In the end, Hercules succeeded by diverting two rivers through the stables, and got little credit for the effort.


Today’s Augean cleanup tasks are perhaps more daunting, but similarly humble Among the environmental issues that involve Appalachia:

Reverse rules passed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the Army Corps of Engineers that water down regulations, or even contradict the law as intended by Congress. For example, the Stream Buffer Zone rule revisions, currently on the table to be significantly weakened, would allow flowing mountain streams to be buried under Mountaintop Removal


Mining rubble, and if passed in the last days of the Bush administration, will have to be reversed.

Clean up the leftovers of coal mining itself, such as abandoned mines, sludge ponds, and fly ash dumps, and clarify the regulations that are supposed to govern them such as “new source review,” and mercury and arsenic emissions standards for coal-fired power plants.


Reverse last-minute regulations exempting confined animal farming operations from water pollution permits.

Hold the line on forests and the wilderness rule, which the Bush administration fought unsuccessfully to overturn for eight years.


Some 58.5 million acres, about a third of the national forests, have been at stake.

Regulate greenhouse gasses – The Bush administration tried to fight this, but lost a Supreme Court case brought by the state of Massachusetts.


Protect endangered species, especially around pipelines, coal mines, and other energy projects.


These and a hundred other humble tasks must be undertaken in order to restore faith in the government’s desire and ability to protect the environment.