Mountaintop Mining Revisited

Mountaintop removal

Mountaintop Removal

Featured front page in the New York Times today, April 12, 2011, is an article by Dan Barry on the effects of mountaintop removal mining of coal on communities.  I have expressed my opinion on this type of mining operation previously but focused on the environmental effects — removal of “overburden” as it is called by the industry, filling of valleys with unused (waste) material, disruption and pollution of ecosystems and water drainage (See Stealthy No More” and “Bush’s Stealth Attack: Mountaintop Removal Mining” below).  Mr. Barry focuses on one town, one family and what is left of the life they had.  It is death, not necessarily of the people themselves, but death nonetheless.  Life as they have known it has ended.  The others in the community, those who have already moved away, faced that death as well and chose to move on earlier.

Mountaintop Removal Site in Pickering Knob, West Virginia

You will recognize the corporation involved, Massey Energy, as the owner of the Upper Big Branch Mine where 29 miners were killed on April 5, 2010.  Subsequent investigation of the accident that led to these deaths has shown that there were hundreds of safety violations filed in the months and years prior to the accident.  See the WVGazette for a good synopsis of “what we know and what we don’t know.”  The final investigation report will probably be out in June 2011.  You may remember comments at the time by Don Blankenship, CEO.  He said a lot.  He said a lot more prior to the accident, one of his memos telling employees,  “If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e. – build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever) you need to ignore them and run coal,” the memo says. “This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that coal pays the bills (npr.org, 4/9/2011).”

Granted, Massey was not wholly to blame for the accident, nor is it wholly to blame for mountaintop mining in general.  We all share the blame.  Our glut for energy with little emphasis on conservation is selfish.  I realize that life as we know it has evolved to include a demand for energy.  I do not advocate going without what we now consider necessities (e.g. technology, a computer, for example, I love my computer).  What I do advocate is that each individual THINK about what we do and need, start with little things — we’ve all heard the “turn off the light when you leave the room” proposal — well, let’s DO IT.  What’s so hard about things like this?  Government shares blame:  the main government regulator (MSHA) had tools it could have used against Massey and didn’t. Politicians share the blame — Republicans in 2010 blocked a bill that would have improved safety in mines, and that is in addition to their continuing fight against environmental regulations that would protect ecosystems which include not just the air, water, plants and animals, but people.  Human beings. Us.

We are all at risk from mountaintop mining because it is the result of and continues from a mindset that minimizes life.  What good are our “rights” if we’re not alive to exercise them?  Why do we, those of us living right here, right now, have the right to live and future generations do not because of our actions?  We exist on an earth that was created with multiple natural systems for the sustaining of life.  Those systems can only be strained so far before they break and cannot be repaired.  We must repair the mindset and that requires each one of us to make some changes.

Mr. Barry’s article about the effects of mountaintop mining on Lindytown, West Virginia should be a wake up call for us all.  The town is gasping its last breath as the last two residents see the end.  I realize the earth will not die in the next 5, 10, 50 or perhaps 100 years, but the breaking point is closer than we think, I’m afraid unless we make changes.  We cannot wait for someone else to do it, we must do it on our own, one little thing at a time but mainly we must THINK.

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Stealthy No More

 Photo by Robert Gates (omni@ntelos.net), thanks to OVEC.org

Photo by Robert Gates (omni@ntelos.net), thanks to OVEC.org

The coal industry got their “going away” gift today as the Bush Administration gave final approval to the last minute regulation change that will allow mountaintop debris to be deposited in streams and valleys. Obama and Congress are the last hope for saving our environment by reversing these regulations. PLEASE write or call your Congressmen!

Again I refer you to the following websites for more information on what mountaintop removal mining really is and the impact it has on the environment:

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

West Virginia Highlands Voice

EarthJustice

Stop Mountaintop Removal

I love Mountains

One more photo of valley fill, from OVEC.org:

Joe Barnett of Artie, W.Va. lives below this White Oak Creek valley fill. During the July 2001 floods, the sediment pond below the valley fill filled with mud, and raging runoff waters dug a channel into the pond’s dam. During heavy rains in 1997, a boy and a woman on their way to church drowned in a similar flash flood from this valley fill. Photo by Robert Gates (omni@ntelos.net)

Joe Barnett of Artie, W.Va. lives below this White Oak Creek valley fill. During the July 2001 floods, the sediment pond below the valley fill filled with mud, and raging runoff waters dug a channel into the pond’s dam. During heavy rains in 1997, a boy and a woman on their way to church drowned in a similar flash flood from this valley fill. Photo by Robert Gates (omni@ntelos.net)

Bush’s Stealth Attack – Mountaintop Removal Mining

The Bush Administration, as it limps along in lame duck mode, has quietly begun proceedings to soften all kinds of environmental, wildlife and conservation regulations. Issues such as mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, the public’s ability to provide input on national forest decisions and the de-listing of the gray wolf from the Endangered Species List are on the administration’s attack list. Completely irrelevant in the foreign affairs arena, sinking to lower job approval percentages every day with the American public and ineffective with Congress, Bush and his administration are now isolated and can do the only thing left — modify departmental regulations.

Photo by Vivian Stockman, Oct. 19, 2003

Photo courtesy Vivian Stockman/www.ohvec.org, Oct. 19, 2003; flyover courtesy SouthWings.org

This is the first of a multi-post series addressing these issues. I hope to raise your awareness of the issues as well as invite you to learn more and then SPEAK OUT, write a letter to the editor, join or contribute to an advocacy group, call your congressmen regarding the administration’s actions and methods, just do something!

Mountaintop removal mining has become a critical battleground for both environmental and fish and wildlife advocates as they desperately fight the coal industry which has the blessing and regulatory backing of the Bush Administration. The stated opposition to this mining procedure by both presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, has motivated the current administration to rush through and lock in pro-industry regulation modifications.

Here is the case brief on mountaintop removal from EarthJustice:

Mountaintop removal is one of the most environmentally destructive activities in the country. The Army Corps of Engineers has issued permits for four mines that will dump millions of tons of rock and debris into nearby streams and valleys, burying them forever. The permits were issued without the required environmental studies and impact statements. On March 23, 2007, a federal judge agreed and rescinded the permits.

That was in 2007. In 2008 the Bush Administration, along with energy and coal industry groups, is appealing earlier court rulings with hopes of reversal which will allow mining companies to proceed. The Administration’s motto seems to be that they never found an environmental or conservation rule yet that they can’t or at least won’t try to at least soften if not do away with completely. The New York Times editorial on Oct. 20, 2008 gives more information and part of the disturbing history of the Administration regarding mountaintop mining, and the latest proposal that has come from the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining.

Do you think this is only an Appalachian problem? Do you think that because you live far away from West Virginia and the other Appalachian states threatened by this devastating form of mining that it doesn’t involve you and therefore you don’t need to be involved? Go to ilovemountains.org and type in your zip code. You’ll be surprised. I live in Utah, a coal producing state in its own right, but when I saw my own connections to mountaintop removal coal I determined to do something, anything.

The effects of this mining process are multiple, negative and permanent. To physically remove the tops of the mountains destroys habitat, forest, natural drainage. Filling the valleys pollutes water, kills streams, destroys communities. Processing creates air and water pollution. All of these combine and destroy in a matter of months a mountain system that took natural systems hundreds of millions of years to create. I refuse to accept that “we need the coal, we need the energy from the coal.” There MUST be a better way. This process, from a human perspective, destroys permanently. The mountains will never be the same; the streams and valleys will never be the same; this is their end. It is more than rape, it is murder.

From Stopmountaintopremoval.org

From Stopmountaintopremoval.org

Please learn more about this issue and speak out to your congressmen, to advocacy groups, to your power company, to anyone because this last photo is what these mountains, valleys and streams are supposed to look like.

Originally printed in the Appalachian Voice, June 2005, photo by Kent Kessinger

Originally printed in the Appalachian Voice, June 2005, photo by Kent Kessinger

Here are some useful links for more information:

Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

West Virginia Highlands Voice

EarthJustice

Stop Mountaintop Removal

I love Mountains

Photos: iLoveMountains.org