In Appalachia, more than 10% of the mountains have been surface mined also known as ‘mountaintop removal’. Not everyone is aware of the way we mine for coal in that particular area (West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee).
Mountaintop removal is a mining technique of surface mining, which is where companies use explosives to blow through the rock and expose the layers that contain coal. This is a relatively new concept that came about in the 1970’s.
The companies responsible do not restore the environment to what it was before, although they are required to by federal law. Instead, most sites receive a spraying of exotic grass seed.
Some would argue that if what coal companies were doing was illegal, then the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) would stop them entirely. But during Bush’s presidency the “New Source Rule of the Clean Air Act” was abolished. This protected air quality when factories and power plants were newly built or modified.
This made it easier for coal companies to bypass the clean air act. One coal power plant emits 40 million pounds of pollutants into the air including arsenic, mercury, carbon dioxide and black carbon. This should be a violation of the Clean Air Act.
These pollutants are affecting people nearby, not only from the pollution in the air, but also from the pollution that has entered the waterways in areas close to mining sites. In some areas, the water is even flammable due to the amount of toxic properties polluting the water supply.
Not only are the pollutants causing cancer, but they’re also contributing to birth defects, asthma and other health issues.
Putting this into account, one of the largest coal companies in Appalachia, Massey Energy, has had over 60,000 safety violations just between 2000-2006. Massey has yet to pay a penny for any of them.
Many government officials of the states in Appalachia believe that coal is only beneficial and that the pros outweigh the cons. However, they only allow themselves to believe this because they’re not the ones forced to deal with the issues it creates for the people in surrounding areas.
Many of the citizens of nearby towns and even people from across the country have begun the civil disobedience fight against the coal controlled government and the companies themselves to get them out.
One group of activists called Climate Ground Zero was founded in 2005. The group’s sole mission is to end mountaintop removal on Coal River Mountain and their current headquarters are located in Rock Creek, West Virginia. They have successfully made progress in their mission with the rebuild of the local Marsh Fork Elementary.
Which needed to be done for the safety of the children because the current school building is beneath a 500-foot high coal silo that holds 2.8 billion gallons of toxic sludge. Because of this, the silo generates large amounts of coal dust endangering the student’s health.
These activists have been in the fight for about 13 years and are still going. They make more and more progress every year, but it is not an easy battle. Hundreds of people have been arrested, many have done time in jail and some even served long sentences.
Even though they’re working hard to make a difference, in my opinion, not enough people are aware of the situation in Appalachia. The coal industry is tearing Appalachia apart and there are not enough people fighting to save it.
If you’d like to learn more about Mountaintop Removal I recommend checking out these two documentaries: Gasland and The Last Mountain.