The fight over Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining


Mountaintop removal in action. Courtesy of the new documentary,

In Appalachia – not too far a drive from the District –  mining companies are blasting off the tops of mountains to dig out the coal underneath. The companies call it mountaintop mining but it’s mountaintop removal to opponents, who have distributed Internet petitions, sitting in treetops, chaining themselves to mining equipment, and getting arrested in various other acts of civil disobedience.

The mining companies have supporters too. Their most vocal (and sometimes violent) backers are mine workers and their families. It’s not hard to see their point of view. For them, it’s a living and a lot safer than descending into an underground mine to extract the stuff the old-fashioned way, which still goes on, incidentally, in Appalachia and beyond.

In the places being blasted, the coal seams were too skimpy to justify tunneling underground and only became economically viable a few decades ago with the advent of enormous earth moving technology. While this new type of mining has revived the coal industry, it hasn’t done much for employment. It doesn’t require nearly as many miners and has done little to restore the steady decline of this storied profession.

Today, the country’s wind farm industry employs more people than coal mines, a fact that seems to suggest that critics may be right when they say coal is quickly becoming passé. There are even calls for a wind farm at Coal River Mountain, W.V., where activists are trying to stop Massey Energy’s plans to level parts of the mountain.

A reasonable question, though, is which will go first – mountaintop removal or Appalachia’s iconic mountain vistas – and its rural communities? No matter what you call it, this form of strip mining permanently changes the landscape. And, it’s already erased hundreds of mountaintops. The rubble that’s left after the blasting is trucked into valleys and dumped, burying lakes and streams, according to the EPA.

That’s just one of the downsides. There is avalanche of information about the negative aspects of mountaintop removal. Here’s a link to an USA Today editorial, here’s a blog written by a West Virginia reporter who has followed the debate for years, and here’s the Internet outpost of the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, which held a June hearing on the impacts of mountaintop removal.

CoalMovielogoThere is also a new documentary, Coal Country, telling the activist’s side of the story.

The film has just been released and comes as the blasting reaches a critical juncture at Coal River Mountain. The emails alerts started last week, navigating supporters networks that snake around the country. Petitions drives, letter and email writing campaigns are now in full tilt to try to get President Obama to call a halt to the blasting. So far, however, the Obama administration has sent mixed signals on mountaintop removal.


About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on November 5, 2009, in Environment and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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