Formation of the

  Coal Mining
  Mountaintop Removal
  Electricity from
    coal burning

  Reforming mountaintop

  Solid waste disposal
  Deep mining of coal
  Coal, people, politics,
    and money


Mountaintop Removal
          A nightmare. Hidden within SMCRA was a time bomb which exploded in the 1990s. The devastation of West Virginia mountains has reached unprecedented proportion in the form of mountaintop removal, a form of strip mining straight out of a Hieronymous Bosch nightmare painting. The name says it all.

     What took hundreds of millions of years for Nature to create is being decapitated by giant corporations who have highly paid, silver-tongued spokesmen, lots of money, and political influence. The mountain tops, once removed, have to be put somewhere, and often they fill valleys.

     Press releases and propaganda to the contrary cannot erase the truth about mountaintop-removal-and-valley-fill: the mountain tops are gone, the valleys are gone, the natural streams are altered or gone, the native trees are gone, and the soil is gone. Some of the mines cover thousands of acres, so their impact is startling. [Note: Valley fill also are discussed in the Streams portion of this web site.] 

     Expose. Mountaintop-removal-and-valley-fill gained notoriety in Shear Madness, an August 1997 article - perhaps expose is a more apt description - in U.S. News & World Report: ; and in the Charleston Gazette: Just as the Gazette has pursued the controversy with the tenacity of a junkyard dog, in Kentucky the Herald-Leader in Lexington has stayed on top of this contentious issue.

     A big-time story. The national news media were drawn to this engaging story like moths to a flame. Why? Grass-roots activism, potent visuals, and a heartfelt story to be told. A half-hour-long ABC Nightline in April 1998 dramatically brought mountaintop-removal-and-valley-fill to the attention of the American public. A few weeks later on May 7,1998, the New York Times published a front-page photo and lengthy article. 

      On August 31, 1998, the Washington Post gave this subject similar coverage. A day later, National Public Radio's All Things Considered brought this topic to every state in the land. Internationally, video documentaries were made by journalists from England and Australia. The November-December 1998 Sierra magazine exposed the devastation left by mountaintop removal. 

     The cautious National Geographic had a striking before-and-after depiction of a decapitated mountain in its March 1999 edition. The July/August 1999 edition of  Mother Jones magazine published a depressing article: In late 1999 politicians screamed bloody murder after valley fills were severely limited by a court decision. Even the venerable Mike Wallace of Television's 60 Minutes came to Huntington and the story he created was watched by millions of people.

     In the new millenium the story continues in various publications. "Mountain Madness" in the May-June 2001 Audobon.  "Blasts From the Past," the feature story in the July 22, 2001, The New York Times Magazine.

     This story "has legs," as journalists a prone to say.

     In 2000 in West Virginia the newly formed Mountain Party ran an anti-mountain-top-removal-valley-fill candidate for governor.

     The literati were not silent, either. Jedidiah S. Purdy produced stinging criticism of the current industry-regulatory melieu. See And his highly regarded first book, For Common Things: Irony, Trust, And Commitment in America Today, is informed by growing up in rural West Virignia with his back-to-the-land parents. Charleston lawyer Tom White wrote the novel Chasing Dragons which includes this controversial form of coal mining in its story line.

     Shake 'em up. There is nothing like the light of publicity to shake up government regulators. The notoriety of this issue has compelled reticent governmental adminstrators to do something.  The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Interior's Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have staked new public positions.[See Valley fills]. The West Virginia Geological Survey completed a geological overview report:

    Reports. OSM, too, is examining anew its practices. In May 1999 OSM issued its Final Report:  An Evaluation Of Approximate Original Contour And Postmining Land Use In West Virginia.  The report is at  To placate Congress OSM is issuing Monthly Report West Virginia Permitting Activities which can be accessed at The monthly report contains a list of pending mountaintop removal-valley fill applications. 

     Even the state's DEP belatedly is revisiting the issue, as well it should. Its enforcement of the approved state program in exercise of primacy has produced a mountain of actions and inactions countenancing mining and reclamation contrary to law.

     With the entry in 2001 of a new governor and a new director of WVDEP, who is not beholden to the coal industry, some positive changes have occurred, tempered by realpolitik.

     For what purpose are West Virginia's mountains and streams being destroyed?
Last updated on Friday, July 27, 2001