Thursday, September 6, 2007

Mountaintop Removal Mining

Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to everyone who have been affected by and lost love ones due to the Utah and Sago mine disasters. May peace be with you.

It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.

Ansel Adams

I think the environment should be put in the category of our national security. Defense of our resources is just as important as def
ense abroad. Otherwise what is there to defend?
Robert Redford

Hello my friends.
As you all are very aware, we have many problems today threatening our environment. It makes me very sad and angry to think that our earth is being destroyed at alarming rates. It breaks my heart to think that my children and grandchildren may not have the quality of life that we have because of what people are doing to our planet. There are things that are happening out there that not everyone is aware of so I feel compelled to bring awareness to the people that I know.

Sean and I were using Google Earth to look at a place we had chosen for our next vacatio
n and while scrolling through the different options of things you can view, we came across the Global Awareness section. We started looking at all the things that are happening to our planet and we were shocked. That’s when I had the idea to share what I had found out and create Arms Around the Planet. My goal is to bring awareness to you on an issue that our world is facing – whether it is environmental or social. My hope is that you will feel strong enough to tell people that you know and spread the word. I will have a new topic each month and will be posting it here. I'm working on getting a website up and running as well. Please check back often, post comments and offer suggestions.

Thank you all so much for taking the time to become aware. I welcome all comments, suggestions, debates, etc. If you have a topic that you would like to hear about, let me know.

If we all do just a little bit each day to help the environment, we can save our planet.

With that being said, my first inaugural issue is about the alarming rate that our mountains right here in the United States
are being destroyed by the use of mountaintop removal coal mining. Before researching this topic,I knew very little about this type of mining, having only seen clips of a show on it that showed before and after pictures so I had no idea that it was this severe. Mountaintop removal coal mining has destroyed more than 470 mountains. Primarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. This type of mining almost completely removes the miner from the process. Not only does this have a huge affect on the environment but it affects the people and the economy as well. According to the bureau of labor statistics, in the 1950’s, there were between 125,000 and 145,000 coal miners working in West Virginia; in 2004, there were just over 16,000.

The link below is to a very informative video on the destruction of mountain top removal. It is only 8 minutes so please take the ti
me to watch it. I was shocked that this is being allowed to happen.

What is mountaintop removal mining?
Mountaintop removal is a relatively new type of coal mining that began in Appalachia in the 1970s as an extension of conventional strip mining techniques. Pr
imarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Coal companies in Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.

The US Environmental Protection Agency defines mountaintop removal as follows:

“Mountaintop removal/v
alley fill is a mining practice where the tops of mountains are removed, exposing the seams of coal. Mountaintop removal can involve removing 500 feet or more of the summit to get at buried seams of coal. The earth from the mountaintop is then dumped in the neighboring valleys.”

What are the effects of mountaintop removal on families and communities?
Even government agencies that regulate mountaintop rem
oval agree that the effects on nearby homes and communities can be devastating. In their Mid-Atlantic Regional Assessment, the Environmental Protection Agency states: “The impact of mountaintop removal on nearby communities is devastating. Dynamite blasts needed to splinter rock strata are so strong they crack the foundations and walls of houses. Mining dries up an average of 100 wells a year and contaminates water in others. In many coalfield communities, the purity and availability of drinking water are keen concerns.”

Coal washing often results in thousands of gallons of contaminated water that looks like black sludge and contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals. The sludge, or slurry, is o
ften contained behind earthen dams in huge sludge ponds. One of these ponds broke on February 26th, 1972 above the community of Buffalo Creek in southern West Virginia. Pittston Coal Company had been warned that the dam was dangerous, but they did nothing. Heavy rain caused the pond to fill up and it breached the dam, sending a wall of black water into the valley below. Over 132 million gallons of black wastewater raged through the valley. 125 people were killed, 1100 injured and 4000 were left homeless. Over 1000 cars and trucks were destroyed and the disaster did 50 million dollars in damage. The coal company called it an “act of God”.

Marsh Fork Elementary School

The school is in lower left of photo. The clear green patch in the lower left is the football field. The tall cylindrical white object is the coal silo, less than 200 feet from the school. The zigzag is the earthen dam holding the sludge lake (2.8 billion gallons), directly above the sch

Marsh Fork Elementary (MFE) is a K-5 school in S
undial, WV, in the heart of the Coal River Valley of Southern West Virginia, Raleigh County. Whereas most kids can go outside and play during recess without having to be exposed to serious threats to their health, these school children attend class in a potentially lethal location. A coal silo sits just 225 feet from the school building and 150 feet from the school grounds. The silo is part of a coal processing plant complex that sits adjacent to the school. The school is also 400 yards downstream from a 385 foot tall sludge dam holding back 2.8 billion gallons of toxic coal waste.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) says the dam is seeping.
Behind the dam, another subsidiary of Massey Energy, Alex Energy, operates an 1849 acre mountaintop removal mining site. In an independent study, samples of dust were taken from various classrooms in the school. Analysis confirmed that all seven samples showed coal dust contamination, which has been proven to cause respiratory problems, especially in children. The school has just more than 200 students and 21 teachers.

Marsh Fork Elementary School is one of the most blatant examples of coal companies' disregard for human health and safety.

How does mountaintop removal affect the environment?
Mountaintop Removal is occurring right at the heart of one of the nation’s main hotspots of biological diversity. According to the Nature Conservancy, the mountain region including southwest Virginia, southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee contains some of the highest levels of biological diversity in the nation. This region is also at the headwaters of the drinking water supplies of many US cities.

Here are some of the impacts and concerns expressed in a 2003 EPA report:
  • 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. (for scale, this is a greater distance than the length of the entire Ohio River).
  • 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. (this is equal to a one-quarter mile wide swath of destruction from New York to San Francisco – it is also significantly underestimated).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has written that mountaintop removal’s destruction of West Virginia’s vast contiguous forests destroys key nesting habitat for neo-tropical migrant bird populations, and thereby decreases the migratory bird populations throughout the northeast U.S.

How does mountaintop removal affect the economy?
Mountaintop removal is a mining technique designed, from the very start, to take the labor force out of the mining operation. According to the bureau of labor statistics, in the early 1950’s there were between 125,000 and 145,000 miners employed in West Virginia; in 2004 there were just over 16,000. During that time, coal production increased. In addition, the coal-bearing counties of Appalachia are some of the poorest in the nation, despite the fact that some of the greatest wealth is being extracted from them.

How could this happen?

A federal judge has twice ruled that most valley fills are illegal under the Clean Water Act (CWA). His first ruling was overturned on a jurisdictional issue, and his second ruling is now under appeal by the Bush administration. In case the appeal doesn’t go the way he wants, Bush has rewritten a 25-year-old rule of the CWA, thus legalizing illegal valley fills. The federal judge reminded Bush that only Congress can rewrite the laws of the land. The whole issue is up in the air. Other aspects of MTR are also illegal, but the outlaw coal industry has many politicians, from the local to the national level, in its pocket. Coal companies continue to buy politicians’ support, so they can do whatever they want, choking out the democratic political process just as their frequent spills choke the life out of streams.
Bush received millions of dollars from the coal industry during his 2000 election campaign One of Bush’s big supporters in West Virginia, James “Buck” Harless (a Bush “Pioneer”), who raised $250,000 for Bush, had a private audience with the President at Bush’s ranch. What’s more, his grandson, James H. Harless II, was chosen as an energy policy adviser during the White House transition.

What can Congress do to stop mountaintop removal?

The Clean Water Act was enacted by Congress to “restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters,” and prohibited the dumping of material into waterways for the purpose of waste disposal. In 2002, the Secretary of the Army changed the definition of “fill material” in order to include mining waste. Since debris from mountaintop removal is no longer considered “waste,” coal companies are dumping millions of tons of mine waste into streams.

Representatives Frank Pallone and Christopher Shays introduced a bill that reestablishes the original intent of the Clean Water Act: to protect our waterways, not give industry permission to pollute and bury them. By the end of the 109th congress of 2006, the bill had 77 co-sponsors.

What can you do? Spread the word and write your congressman. Click here to find your congressman and read about the Clean Water Protection Act. The Clean Water Protection Act is necessary to protect clean drinking water for many of our nation’s cities. It is also necessary to protect the quality of life for Appalachian coalfield residents who face frequent catastrophic flooding and pollution or loss of drinking water as a result of mountaintop removal.

For more information, contact Appalachian Voices at 828-262-1500 or visit their website.

Where can I learn more about mountaintop removal?
Google Earth
Click here to go to to find out how to view the full length version of the National Memorial to the Moutains on Google Earth.

End Mountaintop Removal Action and Resource Center

Appalachian Voices
Boone, North Carolina

Coal River Mountain Watch
Whitesville, West Virginia

Keeper of the Mountains Foundation
Dawes, West Virginia

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
London, Kentucky

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition
Huntington, West Virginia

Save Our Cumberland Mountains
Lake City, Tennessee

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
Big Stone Gap, Virginia

Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment
Lewisburg, West Virginia

Appalachian Citizens Law Center
Prestonsburg, Kentucky

Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Takoma Park, Maryland

Christians for the Mountains
Dunmore, West Virginia

Dave Cooper’s Mountaintop Removal Road Show

Friends of the Mountains

Sierra Club Environmental Justice Projects:
Central Appalachia

Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Asheville, North Carolina

United Mountain Defense
Knoxville, Tennessee

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy
Charleston, West Virginia

West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Elkins, West Virginia

My Resources:
I Love Mountains

Grist Environmental News and Commentary

Mountain Justice Summer

Coal River Mountain Watch

Google Earth
Global Awareness Section, Appalachian Mountaintop Removal


DCM Photography said...

Wendy, I admire and so thankful that you have taken an active approach on your environmental beliefs. I will pass this along and will help out in any way I can!

lucy said...

Thanks for all your distribution over here. I really like this one.

mother earth

Anonymous said...

This has been a very significant blog indeed. I’ve acquired a lot of helpful information from your article. Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us. I really love all the great stuff you provide. Thanks again and keep it coming

man and van London

JustinBarley said...

It is such a shame that we are destroying Earth's beautiful nature like this...

removals London

John said...

Nice! I really enjoyed reading your post. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

man with van in London