Friday, January 8, 2010

New study calls for an end to mountaintop removal coal mining

By Colin Bennett

Mining permits are being issued despite the preponderance of scientific evidence that impacts are pervasive and irreversible and that mitigation cannot compensate for the losses.

That quote comes from a study published yesterday (January 7, 2010) in the journal Science. The study, conducted by a dozen scientists from universities across the country, clearly shows that mountaintop removal (MTR) is irreversibly destroying large swaths of Appalachia. Furthermore, the authors call for an end to the horrific practice stating, "Regulators should no longer ignore rigorous science. The United States should take leadership on these issues, particularly since surface mining in many developing countries is expected to grow extensively."

Last October, as well as in November of 2008, two separate groups of Mason students visited a mountaintop removal site near Rock Creek, West Virgina. The trip was made as part of the annual Mountain Justice Fall Summit, a gathering of students and young people dedicated to doing their part to end mountaintop removal. The event was hosted by a coalition of environmental groups, including Coal River Wind, who wanted to give the participants the chance to see mountaintop removal up close.

"Seeing first-hand the destruction that occurs in order to get coal was an eyeopening experience. Looking at the barren land that was once a thriving mountain was shocking. It changed my perspective and made me more aware of where exactly the energy I use comes from and encouraged me to conserve more," said NCC student Allison Rutledge.

Gopi Raghu, a Junior studying Business at Mason said that he has never seen anything like it before. "Listening to Larry* speak I had the chance to see and hear first-hand the voice of a strong advocate for saving the mountains, often putting his life at risk to do so. It was a wake-up call for me because I didn't know people felt that strongly. After seeing what used to be a mountain I felt like crying. This was the most important part of the trip for me because I wish more people could see what I saw so they'd be willing to take action against mountaintop removal."

Physics major Jason Von Kundra never truly understood the devastation of mountaintop removal until he saw it first-hand. "Visiting Coal River Valley opened my eyes to communities living with the direct impact of MTR and limited ways of coping. Residents told their stories of polluted water, lowered land value, no economic diversity, and other social and economic issues caused by the coal companies. In addition to damaging communities, MTR ravages the land. Standing on the current top of Kayford Mountain, I looked at the unnaturally leveled plateau before me and had trouble imagining the ancient mountain that once stood there. Without vegetation, MTR sites do not support plant and animal life. Even 'reclaimed' sites have limited biodiversity with only one species of grass being planted by the coal companies. This is a tragedy in Appalachia, the most biodiverse region in the United States. I now know my responsibility to stop MTR on ethical and environmental grounds. By putting pressure on the EPA and congress, we can put an end to this havoc."

Clearly, seeing the devastation that is mountaintop removal first-hand makes people think twice about using electricity unnecessarily. Fortunately, for those of us that can't make the trip to see for ourselves, many organizations have put together videos that show what's really happening in Appalachia. Below is one such video from the organization I Love Mountains.

A growing number of organizations are calling for an immediate end to mountaintop removal. President Obama said in a recent interview, "It’s about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it’s inconvenient — especially when it’s inconvenient." Hopefully this study, along with the overwhelming evidence that already exists, President Obama and the EPA will give the political will to end, once-and-for-all, this appalling practice.

If you are interested, here is another video made by our friends at Yale:

*Larry Gibson owns the part of the mountain that hasn't been destroyed. The property has been in his family for generations. He refuses to sell to the coal companies because they will destroy the rest of the mountain.