Written by Taylor Johaneman, ESLLC 2015-2016
While we may live near some of the most gorgeous, serene mountains in the world, there are another group of mountains that lie about a thousand miles to the east of us: the Appalachian Mountains. These mountains are quite different than the Rockies, but just as beautiful in their own way. Dense forests cover the slopes of the 1,500 mile long system of mountains, whose highest peak is only 6,600 feet. But what’s so amazing about these mountains is the incredible amount of biodiversity that they contain. What these beautiful mountains also contain is a large amount of coal. Unfortunately, a portion of the Appalachian Mountains, from Kentucky to Pennsylvania, is being destroyed in order to obtain this coal. More specifically, the mountains southern region of West Virginia are being literally leveled.
There are numerous different ways to mine for coal, and the method used is usually chosen depending on the geology of the area. In southern West Virginia, the underlying area is composed of layers that alternate between coal and other rock. The coal is relatively close to the surface, and thus mountaintop removal mining is used.
Mountaintop removal is a pretty simple process. First, the trees are removed. Then the overburden is removed through blasting and by large machines. Finally, the coal is collected and sent to a near-by processing center.
If it’s not obvious already, mountaintop removal is extremely destructive. Not only does it rid the area of its aesthetic value, but it presents serious environmental effects and has huge potential to harm near-by communities. As for the environmental effects, the headwaters of streams are being buried by the valley fill, and the remaining streams are being polluted with heavy metals. Additionally, habitats are being wiped out. One of the most biologically diverse areas in the US is being decimated.
The destruction of the environment is affecting humans too. Water filter cartridges are being changed every couple weeks in homes, rather than every 6 months. The polluted streams and wells are quite often a cause of serious illness in the surrounding communities. Not only that, but the dust from the mine sites are contributing to illness as well. In fact, rates of cancer have skyrocketed, especially in the Coal River Valley community. In a small town in Coal River Valley, there have been 6 cases of brain cancer in the past couple years, all living side-by-side, and many of them young children. The national average for brain cancer? 1 out of every 100,000.
From an economic standpoint, mountaintop removal is impoverishing communities because they can’t rebuild an economy from the barren land that is left behind. Additionally, although coal companies claim that they provide a great amount of jobs for locals, machines are constantly replacing humans as the mining process progresses.
Although these communities are primarily comprised of coal miners, they have realized that enough is enough. Several groups have coalesced to fight coal companies. One of the more well known fights is against Massey Energy in West Virginia, as they try to mine for coal on what is essentially the last mountain standing, Coal River Mountain. A majority of the mountains that surround Coal River Mountain, including Kayford Mountain and Cherry Pond Mountain, have already been destroyed by mountaintop removal. Citizens of Coal River Valley are trying to save this mountain and are proposing the development of a massive wind farm, which would have far more positive outcomes than coal.
A wind farm on Coal River Mountain would not only benefit the environment and preserve the many important ecosystems, but it would provide an abundance of jobs, and these people would not be eventually replaced by machines. Furthermore, the county would receive $1.7 million in taxes each year, while they would only receive about $30,000 each year from the coal mines.
To sum up, if more attention isn’t brought to this, then the destruction of Coal River Mountain is inevitable, along with many other mountains in Appalachia. Over 500 mountains have been wiped out by coal companies, such as Massey Energy. People who have lived in these communities for generations will be forced to abandon their homes due to health effects and the increased risk of constant, disastrous flooding. The mountains and the people of the Appalachian Mountains can be saved if we all stand up to destructive coal companies and replace them with clean, renewable energy.
- If that isn’t enough, check out these cool images of mountains being destroyed!!
- Also, below is a link to one of the many documentaries made about Coal River Mountain.