Bouncing into the
next mine site, Lancaster glances balefully at a heap of rubbish—old
mattresses, bottles, cans, a broken chair—and says, "Looks like a weekend
ecologist has been here." That's Ed's code word for anyone who "bitches
all week about strip mining and what it's doing to the area he lives in, and
then on Sunday uses the pit for his personal garbage dump."
pilots the Jeep up the mining road, Guckert spots something he doesn't like.
"Ed, stop over here a minute. See that drainage hose? It's supposed to
carry water pumped from the coal seam down to a settling pond where the water's
treated with lime and chemicals before it can get into the watershed. But
somebody got lazy. They're pumping that acid water into a spoil pile."
into action. He throws the cowboy hat into the back seat and dons his official
hard hat. As he accelerates toward the dragline where the foreman's truck is
parked, the tobacco juice in the dashboard cup threatens to spill. "You're
in serious violation of your mine-drainage permit," he tells the foreman,
"and I am officially ordering you to cease and desist mining."
The foreman looks
like he might either say "Yes, sir," or try a looping overhand left to
the forehead. "Close it down, bud," Lancaster says evenly. The foreman
figures what the heck it's not his mine, and calls the owner on two-way radio
from his truck. The dragline, loaders and drills fall silent.
The operator will
have a hearing in Harrisburg before an examiner. He'll probably be fined, and
the violation will go against his record. Too many violations and his
operator's license will be lifted.
"You take a
dragline like that," Guckert says, pointing. "If you were to rent one,
it costs $2,400 a day with the operator. If this guy is shut down an average of
two weeks, it's going to cost him a bundle to get back to mining after the
hearing. That hurts. This operator has never had a violation before, so we'll
try to get him a hearing as soon as we can."
Al Hamilton, the
operator in question, is a thin, middle-aged man wearing a predictable frown
below his red hair. Dressed in Levi's, dirty Wellington boots and a sport
shirt, he could be mistaken for a guy driving home from a factory in his pickup
truck. But the pickup—fitted with exhaust stacks, antennas for three radios,
mag wheels, oversize radial tires, enough chrome, interior trim and accessories
to satisfy a sheik—is easily more expensive than a Cadillac. "I'll bet he's
clearing half a mil for himself," smiles Big Ed.
But Al Hamilton
is not figuring net worth at the moment; he's calculating how much this is
going to cost him and what he's going to do about it. "I guess I'll have to
go up there and fire about three of those dopes," he says, booting stones a
long way down a hill.
feels Guckert's action is fair. "I was in violation, so I'll suffer the
loss. It's tough, but I know that Guckert would bust U.S. Steel's coal
operation for the same thing. He's a fair enforcer, with the big guys as well
as us small fry."
As if to prove
there's no grudge, Hamilton shows Guckert and Lancaster some of the reclamation
projects of which he's particularly proud—a farm now being worked, cattle
grazing on an old strip-mine site, some acreage planted in white birch
("Would you believe it—those things are worth $12 apiece now?"), some
in meadow grasses.