WCJN: Mountain top removal plagues Appalachian Mountains

Photo courtesy of barrenera                                                               An example of mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.

By Jean-Marie Jonell

  • Mountaintop removal destroys not only the mountain habitat, but the surrounding town’s quality of life
  • Appalachian Voices, an organization against mountaintop removal mining, seeks awareness in hopes of government help

Turning on the lights is a simple task, yet there is a complex system of wires and power lines that lead to an unexpected place: the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Here the Appalachian mountains are plagued by the coal industries mining, where exploding mountain tops and pushing them into the valleys has been the standard for the past 15 years. Instead of going through the side of the mountain for coal, which is the traditional method, miners explode the top of the mountain to reveal layers of coal deep in the mountain. After the coal companies are finished, they simply push the waste into the valleys of the mountains.

In West Virginia alone, over half a million acres of mountain tops have been demolished, and throughout the Appalachian Mountains, over 2000 miles of stream have been covered by the pushed, ruined, mountain tops.

“The coal companies see that mountain top removal is inexpensive, in their point of view, but do not realize the impact their mining has on the mountain communities,” explained Lenny Kohm, campaign director for Appalachian Voices.

Appalachian Voices, an organization based out of Boone, N.C., is one of the biggest advocates for the prevention of mountain top removal. The bulk of their work is pushing legislation against mountain top removal.

“We’re really spear-heading the legislative effort, in the House and the Senate. Although no bills have passed, we’ve gotten really close, and as of now we’re making sure the mining companies are obeying the law,” said Kohm.

Kohm is not referring to a specific law though. Kohm explained that Appalachian Voices is trying to prevent the mining companies from taking advantage of the Appalachian communities.

But it’s not just the mountain tops that are being affected; the small Appalachian communities are reaping the consequences.

“Many communities around mountain top removal sites have high levels of toxins in both their air and water, leading to very high rates of cancer, asthma and other diseases,” says David Henderson, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Western Carolina University and environmental activist. “There is a lot of social disintegration caused by the fear and destruction as well, families pitted against each other and jobs threatened.”

As the coal companies continue to destroy the Appalachian Mountains and communities are left off worse than before, Kohm urges citizens to write their legislatures, “Something needs to be done before these mountains are completely destroyed.”

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