CCINAC: 1. Mountaintop removal mining

Mountaintop removal mining is a dangerous activity that I feel very passionate about ending. I think it’s a mix of going to college near Appalachia, an interest in toxicity and writing my senior research paper about female activists in this arena whose stories really touched me. It’s a horrible way to get coal out of the earth, both for people and the environment.

Mountaintop removal mining is the process of trying to get to coal seams by blowing the tops of mountains with explosives. Typically, one might think of the coal carts and underground mines when imagining coal extraction, but this new process is sweeping through Appalachia and taking countless mountaintops with it.

This is what it looks like when someone puts explosives into a mountaintop and blows it to pieces:

This picture, from www.ilovemountains.org, illustrates just the visible damage done to the mountain. Trees and wildlife destroyed, as are the benefits that come from those trees and wildlife — e.g. flood prevention, food, habitat.

Plus, the explosives used catapult toxic debris into nearby streams, ponds and lakes, which contaminates the water that people drink and the water that many animals drink or use as a habitat. It’s not uncommon for water tainted by the debris from blasting to come out of the faucet orange instead of clear. It’s also common for valleys to be filled with rubble from blasting, which leads to rainwater being mixed with the chemicals from these rocks and seeping into streams.

Mountaintop removal mining has also been associated with respiratory problems for people who live near these sites, as they inhale the fumes and the ash created by blasting. Stomach problems are also common — not surprising considering the water near these sites is likely contaminated with toxic chemicals.

People who live near these sites are often very torn, because it’s not as easy as picking up and moving elsewhere. Their households are often their only assets, their households are often in the family or even were built by a family member, and Appalachia is poverty-stricken and people don’t necessarily have the money to pick up and start a new life elsewhere. Even selling their house would be impossible — I mean, would you buy a house where the water was orange and the foundation was cracked and flooding from MTR?

Like many solids extracted from the earth, coal must be washed to separate the coal itself from the rock attached to it. Washing the coal leaves a watery sludge mixture, which is usually just put in some kind of sludge impoundment similar to a lake or pond — and people must cross their fingers and hope the impoundment stays put so they aren’t flooded with slurry.

This picture, from www.mountainroadshow.com, shows a coal sludge pond in Kentucky:

In December 2008, coal sludge flood actually happened in Tennessee — a retention pond burst and more than 500 gallons of coal slurry flooded a city in Tennessee, leaving the city flooded with a sludge that contained toxic chemicals like mercury, arsenic and lead. This kind of disaster is the result of trying to just put toxic waste in a fenced-in area and ignoring the fact that it is toxic and needed proper disposoal (or, if there wasn’t such a thing, it shouldn’t have been created in the first place if it couldn’t be disposed of safely).

The government continues to permit MTR mining even though it poses dangerous and well-known threats to the environment and to the people who live near these MTR sites. Advocates of MTR mining say it creates jobs, when in reality it is a much more mechanized form of mining that uses machines more than manpower, and has cost many Appalachians their jobs in underground mining. MTR mining completely disregards the environment and the health of the people who live near these mountains in order to feed our country’s “need” for coal, and we need to realize the effects that our habits can have on the people who suffer because we demand more and more energy and electricity.

Coal River Mountain Watch’s Coal River Wind Project is a great solution to the problem of MTR mining because it suggests harvesting a renewable energy resource (wind) in the mountaintops instead of blowing them to pieces. It creates jobs, protects health and keeps energy flowing. Visit the Web site to support the cause.

You can visit countless Web sites to support the end of mountaintop removal mining, and ilovemountains.org is a good place to start. Contact your representatives and let them know how you feel about MTR mining, and visit this EPA site to find out how clean your electricity is. Simply reducing your overall energy use can reduce the demand and the act of MTR mining, as can supporting alternative, cleaner, renewable energy sources through your senators, representatives, activism and donations.

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2 Responses to “CCINAC: 1. Mountaintop removal mining”

  1. Noner Says:

    Yay I finally got around to your new blog. Thank god for my phone which allows me to read this while watching tv. I think this is an awful situation, but it seems unreal. Why has no major news outlets done anything in this? Obv. Has major human interest potential. Or am I just not aware of stories about this?

    • cathyjwilson Says:

      It sometimes makes it into news, but it’s probably a mix of people not caring about poor people, people not wanting to cut back on energy use, and people not really knowing what/how to stop it from happening. I mean coal powers a lot of the US, and the people who are suffering from MTR mining are typically poor and have a tough time getting there voices heard. And middle-class people who hear about it might just think, “OK, well, move then,” not understanding the dynamic of Appalachia/poverty/home ownership/the fact that they shouldn’t have to move.

      Oh, and the “clean coal” commercials.

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