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Mountaintop Removal Mining
August 25, 2007 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Appalachian Apocalypse. Mountaintop removal mining (previously) has a devastating effect on the environment and local populations. The Bush administration wants to loosen regulations and expand the practice. [Via Wired Science.]
posted by homunculus (43 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
The Bush administration wants to loosen regulations and expand the practice.

I didn't even have to read that sentence to know that it was true.
posted by Avenger at 7:51 PM on August 25, 2007


Putting on my devil's advocate hat...

If you don't want this, use a hell of a lot less electricity than you currently do. If you don't like mountain tops being chopped off, then lower the need to electricity from coal-powered electrical plants, and then this sort of ruthless land-rape won't be necessary.

It means finding alternative methods to power your iPod, cellphone, foot massager, computer and sex toy. Switch to solar, buy green power, or just restrain your rampant consumerism. Go to the local open air market instead of the mall. Demand that the big box store switch to low-power lighting. The list could go on, but does it need to?

Taking off devil's advocate hat...

Yeah, it's hard. I'm not great about it either. I wish I was, though at least in my area the far majority of electricity comes from hydroelectric instead of fossil fuels.
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:57 PM on August 25, 2007


One could only hope that Native American poltergeists will terrorize these people.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:57 PM on August 25, 2007


I always thought the strippings in northern PA were as desolate and disgusting as it gets, as far as environmental destruction goes. Then I heard that the coal companies had started just decapitating the mountains and ripping their guts out instead. I literally can't imagine what these places look & feel like in person after something like that has been done.

Of course, when all of the mountains are dead, you have plenty of nice flat land for the wind to howl across, and then: wind farms! USA! USA!
posted by synaesthetichaze at 8:15 PM on August 25, 2007


What It Costs Us
posted by homunculus at 8:22 PM on August 25, 2007


This is what they get for voting for him.
posted by smackfu at 8:38 PM on August 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Can you hear that? It's the sound of our unborn children weeping...
posted by blue_beetle at 8:40 PM on August 25, 2007


I find it hard to believe there are not more environmentally sound ways to get the coal out. I find it easy to believe the coal companies put their time and energy into lobbying Washington to do it the cheap and easy way.
posted by stbalbach at 8:42 PM on August 25, 2007


Ok, a question on this process...In order to cut the top off the tree-covered mountain, they've got to remove a lot of topsoil and organic material. After they cut the top flat, can't they replace the topsoil and plant trees?

Sure, it's not ideal in any way, but it's better, no?
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:53 PM on August 25, 2007


I find it hard to believe there are not more environmentally sound ways to get the coal out.

You can dig tunnels, but that doesn't work out too well for the miners. Trade lives for scenery?
posted by smackfu at 8:58 PM on August 25, 2007


And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away

posted by George_Spiggott at 9:00 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Strip mining is the devils work, no doubt, and this is even worse. You can take that iPod and shove.....
posted by caddis at 9:16 PM on August 25, 2007


Yeah, all this makes me sad too, so a few weekends ago I looked up the stats on wind power. Currently the U.S. gets about 1% of its electricity from it, and that percentage is increasing at the rate of about 25% a year, meaning that next year we should get about 1.25% of our electricity from wind (and I will be eagerly watching the published statistics to see if that really happens).

If that trend continues, it'll still be 10-20 years before we can get a significant proportion of our power from wind. But there are other factors at work like NIMBYism. And the coal lobby likes to block legislation that promotes generation of power from things other than coal, and it has a few states in its pocket.

So it goes.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:30 PM on August 25, 2007


But there are other factors at work like NIMBYism.

Yes, if you mean people don't want local green areas spoiled by giant, noisy turbines, yes, there's plenty of that.

As noted above, the answer is to use less electricity, not to find other ways to generate it. Otherwise, they will strip mine and build big ugly windmills and put flashy solar collectors where desert should be and build dams where rivers should be and so on and on. The clean answer is to turn shit off.
posted by pracowity at 10:18 PM on August 25, 2007


"About 80 years ago the big land companies of the East sent their
agents into this part of eastern Ky to buy up all the mineral rights
from the people who live here. They ended up eventually with about
90% of the acreage in most of the east Ky counties, having paid a
price of 25 to 30 cents for each acre. They did this by a legal
instrument known as the broadform deed that gave the mineral owner
all the minerals under the ground; gave him the right to extract
these minerals without any liabilities whatsoever for any damages to
the surface of the land...Ky is the only state where the courts have
ruled in favor of the mineral owner on the broad-form deed question."
J T Begley, atty


Those mountains belong to people who thought they were selling the mineral and natural gas rights only, and were expecting maybe a gas pipe or a mine shaft or two.

The good news is they get to keep their land once the mountains have been flipped over.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:19 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Gristmill has been running a series on Mountaintop Removal Mining this week.
posted by homunculus at 10:29 PM on August 25, 2007


I disagree that using less electricity will put a stop to the practice. It's basic capitalism: They want to get something as cheaply as possible and sell it for as much as possible. If large swaths of Americans changed their ways, it doesn't mean power companies have to change theirs.

And besides, this is one of the great fallacies about the environmental movement: That a bunch of dirty hippies want humanity to return to cave-dwelling and subsistence farming to save the planet. Fer chrissakes, Al Gore and others aren't anti-technology; in fact they're all for it. What they want is for people use it smartly, to improve the world without trashing it.
posted by fungible at 11:04 PM on August 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


But to use it smartly means knowing how to not use it at all. If you're using more electricity than you did before, despite improved device efficiencies and plenty of environmental worries (such as disappearing mountains) to remind you, you're failing.
posted by pracowity at 11:47 PM on August 25, 2007


This obscenity to the earth and any semblance of a god is the ultimate fulfillment of the American dream. The photos in homunculus' link are pretty stunning.
posted by kaspen at 11:49 PM on August 25, 2007


Fuck Kentucky and West Virginia. I hope everyone who lives there dies of cancer. Turning off my computer when I go to sleep is damn inconvenient, and I don't like it when the thermostat goes south of 70.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:18 AM on August 26, 2007


Strip mining is like fishing with dynamite or hunting by bulldozing the woods.
posted by pracowity at 3:08 AM on August 26, 2007


This is heartbreaking.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:32 AM on August 26, 2007


Well, I dont think windpower in large scale would be a solution either.

Just read a bookabout this theme from James LoveLock, "The revenge of Gaia"

.. one of his warning is that windmills in large scale, might affect the wind. Like, "According to the Royal Society o Engineers 2004 report, onshore european wind energy is two and a half times, and offshore wind energy is over tri times, more expensive per kilowatt hour than gas or nuclear energi"...

And, i know blasting mountains destroys the landscape, but, there will be needed a hell of a lot of 100meters, one megawatt wind turbines. Is it room in your backyard;)?
posted by Groomz at 5:43 AM on August 26, 2007


I heard them talking about this on the Democracy Now radio show the other day. Here's a link.

I think Game Theory adequately explains why "limit your own consumption" ideals cannot rein this sort of thing in (any more than it works with illegal drugs), and why an insightful government (not that we have one) is required to regulate this sort of thing.
posted by DarkForest at 6:19 AM on August 26, 2007


You can dig tunnels, but that doesn't work out too well for the miners. Trade lives for scenery?

Mountaintop removal is not without danger either. When the slurry impoundments fail, human homes and lives are in danger in addition to the complete ruination of the streams and riparian environment - and fail they do (see table 1 halfway down page).

Also, my parents briefly lived in Charleston WV, and there was a lot of local talk about limiting how much coal the trucks can carry - because there had been several deaths resulting from overloaded coal trucks losing control on mountainous roads and hitting passenger cars. Apparently the coal companies aren't willing to pay the truckers much per ton to haul the stuff, which encourages the truckers to overload in order to make a decent living.
posted by misskaz at 6:21 AM on August 26, 2007


Support OHVEC! Have a look at their galleries. Donate.

Yesterday, at the IRC cocktail party, when I said that WV was the site of the most widespread environmental devastation in the US, I wasn't kidding.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:31 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


Follow up to my own post:

In February 1972, the Pittston Coal Co.'s dam system failed in the Buffalo Creek Hollow in West Virginia.

The disaster killed 125 people, injured 1,000, and left 4,000 homeless. Five hundred and seven houses were lost or demolished 44 mobile homes were destroyed another 273 houses were severely damaged, while nearly 663 houses suffered damage to varying degrees. In addition, 30 businesses, 1,000 vehicles, 10 bridges, and power, water and telephone lines were destroyed, and the county road and the rail lines servicing the valley's coal mines were severely damaged. From Charleston Gazette articles on 25th anniversary of disaster.
posted by misskaz at 6:32 AM on August 26, 2007


Also, my parents briefly lived in Charleston WV, and there was a lot of local talk about limiting how much coal the trucks can carry - because there had been several deaths resulting from overloaded coal trucks losing control on mountainous roads and hitting passenger cars. Apparently the coal companies aren't willing to pay the truckers much per ton to haul the stuff, which encourages the truckers to overload in order to make a decent living.

That situation may have improved slightly.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:34 AM on August 26, 2007


Dethroning King Coal
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:40 AM on August 26, 2007


Almost level,
West Virginia,
Blue Ridge flatlands,
Shenandoah sludge pond
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:43 AM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


pracowity: Strip mining is like fishing with dynamite

That's an exact analogy.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:01 AM on August 26, 2007


I'm always glad to see this getting attention here. As much as I dislike the culture of Appalachia, it pains me to see the natural beauty there destroyed.
posted by malaprohibita at 7:16 AM on August 26, 2007


Its all about the coal companies and mine owners. They will do whatever it takes to save/earn themselves more money. One of the great things about this form of mining is that it takes even less miners (safer, yay!), which means less worry about having to deal with all the legal issues concerning employing men in dangerous jobs.

The truth of the matter, is that most of the companies will violate and break as many rules as they can. Always been this way, and until you get a Federal and state governments that truly give a damn (i.e. enforcement), it will continue to happen.

Vanity Fair's Rape of Appalachia from May '06 was a good article.

I wasn't raised in Appalachia, but its where my family is from, with a grandfather who was a miner, and a great-grandfather who helped organize for the UMWA. Its still an emotional issue.
posted by Atreides at 7:36 AM on August 26, 2007


I find it hard to believe there are not more environmentally sound ways to get the coal out.

Why bother with an environmentally sound way of mining coal when you're going to burn the coal for energy?

Blowing the mountaintop off is the least damaging part of the process.
posted by eriko at 8:29 AM on August 26, 2007


StickyCarpet, the broad-form deeds were finally killed in the 80s and early 90s. The coal companies are getting permission for this in other ways.

I hate coal, and I hate coal mining, and yeah, I'm originally from the areas that are getting messed up. Things like this are just sickening.
posted by dilettante at 9:27 AM on August 26, 2007


Almost level,
West Virginia,
Blue Ridge flatlands,
Shenandoah sludge pond

Life is coal there,
Digging at the seams,
Mountain top removal,
Dump it in the streams.

Country coal, light my home,
Pollute the place where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain miner,
Light my home, country coal.

All my memories, grand great nature
Verdant forest, cold clean blue water,
Virgin forest mountains, painted on the sky,
Misty taste of moonshine,
Teardrops in my eye.

Country coal, light my home,
Pollute the place where I belong,
West Virginia, mountain miner,
Light my home, country coal.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:10 AM on August 26, 2007 [2 favorites]


Anyone able to complete the song? The lyrics get kind of obscure...
posted by five fresh fish at 11:11 AM on August 26, 2007


The answer is a vastly lower world population. Bah.
posted by mrhappy at 11:14 AM on August 26, 2007


The waiting game: MTR activists don't expect progress until the Bush administration is gone.
posted by homunculus at 11:42 AM on August 26, 2007


It is astounding that with all the expensive proposals to combat global warming no one is discussing reducing global carbon emissions by putting out mine fires. Although putting out fires in America would not have a significant effect, putting out fires in China and India would.
posted by homunculus at 12:54 PM on August 26, 2007


I spent a number of childhood summer days going to work with my dad, who was the civil engineer on many mountain-top removal sites across southern WV. I would ride in the dump trucks all day or hang out with my uncle in the loader. Among my childhood photos is a shot of me in a muddy Members Only jacket pushing the shot button that blasted off a mountain top.

Certainly, those were about the best days a tomboy could ever have. But still, I've tried to stay ahead of that karma by settling down with an environmental activist, buying 100% wind power, and standing up every time my dad sings the virtues of coal.
posted by wg at 3:49 PM on August 26, 2007


Moyers on Mountaintop Mining.
posted by homunculus at 12:33 AM on September 11, 2007


Wired: Blowing the Top Off Mountaintop Mining
posted by homunculus at 12:34 AM on September 11, 2007


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