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November-December 2010
Vol. 35, No. 6


U.S.: Mountaintop removal mining

 

Mountaintop removal is one most destructive forms of mining. It is a radical procedure to excise coal in which entire mountains literally are blown up. The explosives destroy ecological balance, spreading coal ash and dust for miles, endangering natural habits and human communities. The following article was written by Nina Bosken, who is working for a year with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns through the Discipleship Year program.

The next time you turn on a light, consider that the electricity you use may be the result of mountaintop removal.

Before the top of the mountain can be blasted for coal, miners must clear it off, thereby destroying all ecosystems that existed in that space. According to Appalachian Voices, a nonprofit environmental group focused on the south and central Appalachian mountains, the organic waste from the clearing process is then burned or illegally dumped. Then explosives are used blow up the mountain and extract the coal underneath and are followed by machines that survey the land to pick up the coal. Excess coal ash is dumped into valleys. This practice has buried more than 2,000 miles of streams. Before the coal can be used, it must be washed and treated. This creates coal slurry, a combination of coal dust, water and clay.

What happens to the mountain? Several golf courses have been constructed on the flat land created after the destruction of the mountain. Coal supporters claim that the land is left in a better form for building developments. Others try to use the mined surfaces for planting.

According to Appalachian Voices, 293 mountains in Kentucky have been destroyed as a result of mountaintop removal mining. West Virginia is a close second with 135 mountains. All together, 501 mountains have been mined as a result of mountaintop removal in the United States.

In late September, over 100 activists visited Washington, D.C. for Appalachia Rising, a two-day event to lobby and demonstrate against the continued use of mountaintop removal coal mining. In addition to holding a public witness at the White House, Appalachia Rising participants met with members of Congress to urge them to co-sponsor the Appalachia Restoration Act, which would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to include a definition of what fill material is. One of the harms from mountaintop removal is that the waste that gets dumped into waterways, which includes vegetation and coal waste. If the legislation is passed, the new banned fill material would be defined as any material that could dry up waterways or modify the elevation level of a waterway.

Faith in action:

Contact your senators and urge them to co-sponsor the S. 696, the Appalachia Restoration Act. If they already signed on, write them a thank you note.

For more information on mountain top removal go to the following websites:

Plundering Appalachia
Appalachian Voices
Ilovemountains.org
Mountain Justice
Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment
Catholic Committee of Applachia

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