Monday, August 25, 2014

Mountaintop Removal: The High Cost of Coal

Left: Forest--Right: Mountaintop removal
Mountaintop removal means environmental destruction. We don't know the extent of this destruction because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stopped studying its impact in 2001, when Deputy Director J. Steven Griles, a former coal industry lobbyist, cancelled the study. President Bush's friends had no interest in finding out about environmental damage in the Appalachians. Instead, Griles concentrated his efforts on finding ways to expedite mining permits without bothering to discover their effects on the environment.

Those effects are severe. The incomplete study released the following statistics before Bush pulled the plug:
  • More than 7 percent of Appalachian forests have been cut down and more than 1,200 miles of streams across the region have been buried or polluted between 1985 and 2001.
  • Over 1000 miles of streams have been permitted to be buried in valley fills.
  • Mountaintop removal mining, if it continues unabated, will cause a projected loss of more than 1.4 million acres by the end of the decade-an area the size of Delaware-with a concomitant severe impact on fish, wildlife, and bird species, not to mention a devastating effect on many neighboring communities.
  • 800+ square miles of mountains are estimated to be already destroyed.
Since the study was never completed, experts have estimated that it underestimates the problem by 40%. The damage described dates from the late 1990s. The coal industry depredations have continued without hindrance since then.

The area where this devastation is proceeding is one of the few wilderness areas in the northeastern United States. It is a region of beautiful forests teeming with wildlife: trees, creeks, birds, animals, fish. Few people hear about this rape of the land because coal companies buy all the land on the mountain and prevent anyone coming near enough to take pictures of what they do there. Their activities pollute the ground water in a watershed that provides drinking water for the residents of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

The affects of air pollution caused by the coal mined in this region extend even farther. Georgia and North Carolina are the biggest users of Appalachian coal. Recently a leak at a Duke Coal Energy ash containment pond in North Carolina released 50 to 80 thousand tons of coal ash and 27 million gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River.

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