Sacrifice zones: A regrettable inevitability

 

I earn my living protecting undeveloped natural ecosystems and restoring degraded landscapes, and I visit Western deserts as frequently as I can. So I sympathize with the residents and stewards of the Mojave Desert confronted by the reality of industrial energy development profiled in Judith Lewis Mernit's "Sacrificial Land" (HCN, 4/15/13). However, these people's complaints, however legitimate and justifiable, strike me as more than a little motivated by Not In My Backyard concerns. Are the hinterlands of the Mojave Desert more sacred than the forests and rivers in the eastern "sacrifice zone," in the central Appalachian coal fields where each year thousands of mountainous acres in West Virginia, Kentucky and southeastern Ohio are converted to grassy mesas and miles of headwater valleys are buried under tons of overburden? In no way am I passing judgment on the value of the Mojave ecosystems or the lives of these desert residents. But as long as the population of the United States continues to grow, our appetite for electricity expands, and a comprehensive federal energy policy is lacking, such conflicts are, regrettably, inevitable.

David J. Robertson
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania