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The Appalachian Mountains are the oldest mountains in the world and one of the most biologically diverse locations in this hemisphere. Our communities here are culturally rich. Most importantly, they are home.

Mountaintop removal is any method of surface coal mining that destroys a mountaintop or ridgeline, whether or not the mined area will be returned to what is legally described as the “approximate original contour.” Methods of mountaintop removal coal mining include, but are not limited to: cross-ridge mining, box-cut method mining, steep slope mining, area mining or mountaintop mining.

The Process Of Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Before mining can begin, all topsoil and vegetation must be removed. Because coal companies frequently are responding to short-term fluctuations in the price of coal, the trees are often not used commercially, but instead are burned or sometimes illegally dumped into valleys.

Many Appalachian coal seams lie deep beneath the surface of the mountains. Accessing these seams can require the removal of 600 feet or more of elevation. Blowing up this much mountain is accomplished by using millions of pounds of explosives.

Coal and debris are removed using enormous earth-moving machines known as draglines, which stand 22 stories high and can hold 24 compact cars their buckets. These machines can cost up to $100 million, but are favored by coal companies because they displace the need for hundreds of miners.

In 2002, the Bush Administration changed the definition of “fill material” in the Clean Water Act to include toxic mining waste, which allowed coal companies to legally dump the debris, called “overburden” or “spoil,” into nearby valleys. These “valley fills” have buried more than 2,000 miles of headwater streams and polluted many more.

Coal must be chemically treated before it is shipped to power plants for burning. This processing creates coal slurry, or sludge, a mix of water, coal dust and clay containing toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, lead and chromium. The coal slurry is often dumped in open impoundments, sometimes built with mining debris, making them very unstable.

While reclamation efforts are required by federal law, coal companies often receive waivers from state agencies with the idea that economic development will occur on the newly flattened land. In reality, most sites receive little more than a spraying of exotic grass seed, and less than 3 percent of reclaimed mountaintop removal sites are used for economic development. According to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency impact statement on mountaintop removal in Appalachia, it may take hundreds of years for a forest to re-establish itself on the mine site.

For more information on this issue visit our friends:
In Kentucky – KFTC        In WV – OVEC       or       The Alliance For Appalachia

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