August 31, 2009

I've been to the mountaintop

But now it's gone.

Never been to the Appalachian mountains? You'd better plan a trip soon. Mountain tops are disappearing, due to the contentious practice of "removing" them to get to the coal far underneath. Appalachian Voices newsletter states that "A summer of discontent is rapidly turning into an autumn of confrontation, as Congressional hearings and regional protests
increasingly pit environmental activists against coal industry employees."

See for one side of the argument. Or Applachian Voices at

I can't understand the other side of the issue--since destroying mountains just seems wrong, and unintelligent. I just got home from a trip to the Blue Ridge mountains, so perhaps I'm biased by the beautiful scenery we witnessed. The scene to the right is the alternate. Richmond-based Massey Energy continues its massive mountaintop removal operations on the controversial Coal River Mountain range in West Virginia.

Then there's the spoils that get dumped into nearby streams. That's a "no brainer" for sure.

So why did Verizon sponsor a pro–mountaintop removal rally on a strip-mine site this past weekend with "Friends of America"? Corporate response that was emailed to me: "The sponsorship you're concerned about was a local decision to support the community and sell our products at the event. It is not a statement of our policy on any public issue." So sponsorship = selling phones. Corporate America bamboozles us again!

Why do they do it? Primarily, mountaintop removal is occurring in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and VIRGINIA. Coal companies in Appalachia are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.

By the way. . . ever wonder what happened after that massive spill (1.1 BILLION gallons) of coal ash from a power plant in east Tennessee last December? The tons of toxic slurry that ended up in their local streams after the earthen dam collpased? Almost every day, a train now pulls into a rail yard in rural Alabama, hauling 8,500 tons from that disaster to a final resting place in a landfill 350 miles away in Perry County, which is very poor and almost 70 percent black. Three million cubic yards of coal ash in those Alabama residents' Christmas stockings!

And it could happen again. . . the EPA just announced that 19 more of the 28 coal-ash disposal sites also pose a hazard to environmental and human health. There's a significant amount of mercury, lead, chromium, and cadmium in that stuff. According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, 35 states have the dubious honor of "hosting" 584 coal-ash ponds.
September 11, 2009 UPDATE:
Today the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that The all 79 mountaintop-removal mining permits submitted to it for review by the Army Corps of Engineers would violate the Clean Water Act. But don't give out a big sigh of relief for those mountains yet.
Permits to bury streams with mining waste are initially issued by the Army Corps of Engineers, but EPA has ultimate oversight and may veto Corps-issued permits if they fail to comply with the Clean Water Act. The Army Corps now has 60 days to revise the permits and address EPA’s concerns.