Planet Earth Weekly

Climate Change and Renewable Energy: Saving Our Planet for Future Generations


Mountaintop Coal Mining—The Destruction of Appalachia

English: Valley fill - Mountaintop removal coa...

English: Valley fill – Mountaintop removal coal mining in Martin County, Kentucky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Lin Smith

August 4, 2013—While listening to NPR this morning I heard a statement on Global Warming, “If we wait 80 years to deal with global warming, it may take 20,000 years to get our planet back to a livable condition. If we deal with it now, we could remain a planet that is habitable.” Eliminating the burning of fossil fuels is the key to reducing greenhouse gases.

Coal is the earth’s number one fossil fuel offender. It’s the main greenhouse gas which traps heat in our atmosphere. Also, a method used in the Appalachian Mountains, mountaintop removal  to extract the coal,  has created a nearly irreversible devastation to this part of our planet. Approximately 10% of our nation’s coal comes from Appalachia, where mountaintop mining is destroying thousands of acres in one of the oldest mountain chains on the planet–nearly 480 million years old!

Mountaintop mining has been taking place since the 1960’s, destroying more than 500 mountaintops by heavy machinery and explosives in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee. This type of surface mining accounts for nearly half of the coal mined in these states. Extracting the coal from the mountaintops of Appalachia leaves the mountain tops demolished and contaminates thousands of acres surrounding the surface mines. Toxic mining products are dumped into nearby valleys and streams in what is called “holler fills,” completely buryed more than two thousand mountain streams!

Why use this method of mining? Fewer miners are needed for mountaintop mining because most of the work is completed by explosives and heavy machinery. Also, in the 1990’s, demand for electricity greatly increased, unleashing coal companies to use any method possible to meet the higher demands of our population.

Dominion Resources is an example of corporate greed vs. the welfare of our planet and its inhabitants. Ranking #157 on the Fortune 500 list, Dominion, with headquarters in Richmond, Virginia, has power generating facilities in 11 states. In 2010, Dominion ranked 51st in corporations emitting airborne pollution and land contamination. Coal is “washed” before it is sold to companies like Dominion, releasing toxic, heavy metals by underground slurry injections which poison groundwater and the people who drink the water. Giant slurry ponds, formed by earthen dams, hold up to 8 billion gallons of coal slurry near these sites. Dominion buys and finances mountaintop coal to power its plants that supply electricity to much of the U.S., causing not only an increase in CO2 released into our atmosphere, but a serious disruption to the health and wellbeing of the Appalachian people. Studies show this type of coal mining has been a major factor in a 50% higher rate of cancer, 42% higher rate of birth defects, and millions of dollars a year in health cost increases to the people of Appalachia. writes, “There’s a common saying in Appalachia–what we do to the land we do to the people!”

Both the residents of Appalachia and the shareholders of Dominion Resources are fighting back against corporate greed. Ruth Amundsen, a Dominion shareholder, writes,” Dominion must change its current compensation incentives to properly reward executives for making decisions that actually encourage long-term sustainability for its customers and shareholders. Management must use environmental responsibility and long-term stability as guides instead of pursuing short-term profits at the expense of the environment.”

Another shareholder, Seth Heald, states, “It’s past time for Dominion Resouces to join the ranks of responsible corporations that have stopped financing and buying mountaintop removal coal. By continuing to buy this tainted coal, Dominion’s management and board damage the company’s image.”

When a corporation’s shareholders speak out against the corporation, maybe it’s time for CEO’s to quit burying their heads in the sand and look at their policies of “business as usual”—at any cost to life and land!