Thirty seven years ago, American rivers were still catching fire and city dwellers had to choke through a pall of smoke just getting to work.
Fed up with unregulated pollution, millions of Americans joined together on Earth Day and demanded that air and water pollution be cleaned up. The environmental movement was one of the most successful in history, and it produced a national consensus that has become a bedrock political fact of life.
An overwhelming majority of Americans now believe that environmental protection and conservation is a top priority, even at the expense of domestic energy development or unemployment. In a March, 2007 Gallup poll, for example, a representative sample of Americans were asked which should be given priority: energy production at home or environmental protection? Energy came in at only 34%, and environment was a strong 58%.
Yet in Appalachia, the coal and utility industries have yet to learn the consequences of flying in the face of public opinion. When the balance sheets are tallied up, a price will be paid by industries that have forgotten the people.