Mountaintop removal mining takes place in states in the central Appalachian region, including West Virginia, Kentucky, southern Virginia and Tennessee.
In this destructive process, entire peaks, mountaintops and ridges are literally blown apart in order to reach the coal seams that lie underneath. Up to 800 feet of mountain can be blasted away.
The resulting millions of tons of waste rock, dirt, and vegetation are then dumped into the neighboring valleys and streams.
These valley fills permanently bury streams and aquatic habitat under millions of tons of rubble hundreds of feet high, destroying the entire surrounding ecosystem and disrupting nearby communities.
Communities near mountaintop removal sites experience serious harm from blasting including dust, noise, and damage to homes and water supplies.
Over five million pounds of explosives (two to three million pounds per day in southern West Virginia alone) are detonated each working day in Appalachia.
Each blast set by coal companies to “remove” mountaintops varies in force from ten to one hundred times the intensity of the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing.
Every eleven and one-half days, the explosive equivalent of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima is unleashed upon the mountains of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.
People living as far away as 12 miles from mountaintop removal sites have called in complaints about blasting.
Coalfield citizens describe severe dust problems that cause them to be “prisoners in our homes.”
Dust also comes from the huge increase in traffic from trucks hauling coal away from the mines – traffic alone can be extremely dangerous.
A recent study singles out mountaintop removal mining and valley fills in West Virginia and adjacent states as the greatest contributor to earth moving activity in the United States.
Communities also experience increased likelihood of flooding after heavy rainfall events because of the destruction of forests, decimation of the landscape and compaction of soil.
To quote a coalfield resident on flooding, “We live in fear. The whole hollow is in a state of anxiety now every time it storms.”
Communities experience loss and degradation of well water.
Communities experience loss of community as homes are bought out and other residents leave.
Citizens loose a way of life—mountain culture—that depends on lush forests and healthy ecosystems and a loss of the independence that it brings.
Communities experience loss of environmental values that include:
According to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s own figures, 1,208 miles of streams in Appalachia were destroyed from 1992 to 2002, and regulators approved 1,603 more valley fills between 2001 and 2005 that will destroy 535 more miles of streams – nearly 2000 miles of streams have been damaged or permanently destroyed by mountaintop removal.
When past, present and future areas that have been or will be affected are added together, the estimated area of forest impacts is 1.4 million acres or approximately 2,200 square miles.
Forest loss in West Virginia alone has the potential of directly impacting as many as 244 vertebrate wildlife species.
EPA found elevated levels of sulfate, total and dissolved solids, conductivity, and selenium downstream from valley fills along with significant changes in aquatic life.
The loss of the genetic diversity “would have a disproportionately large impact on the total aquatic genetic diversity of the nation.”
The true cost of mining coal is borne by the citizens of the Appalachian coalfields and the environment that supports us all – not the coal industry.