Mountaintop removal mining is bad for Appalachia
Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011
Updated: Thursday, August 25, 2011 22:08
In the words of the ground-breaking hip-hop artist KRS-One: In a democracy, "the character of the people should be reflected in the laws and institutions of the state."
Perhaps nowhere are we further from that ideal than on environmental protection, especially around mountaintop removal (MTR) mining.
The House of Representatives recently passed a bill that would weaken the Clean Water Act, making it easier for mining companies to get approval for MTR mines.
At the same time, a new poll shows that 78 percent of voters in the four states where MTR is practiced want to see Clean Water Act protections increased. Only 8 percent oppose full enforcement of current Clean Water Act protections.
Our elected officials obviously don't care what we want. 78 percent of us want stronger water protection, and the House of Representatives is weakening water protection.
We live in a pretend democracy.
Appalachians oppose MTR
Mountaintop removal is a method of mining coal that produces huge corporate profits and long-lasting severe environmental destruction.
Using explosives and giant machinery, the tops of mountains are blown apart and pushed into neighboring valleys. That allows the mining company to remove multiple seams of coal, but it kills the streams around the mountain and poisons people living nearby.
Multiple polls have shown widespread opposition to MTR.
Among Appalachian voters, more than twice as many oppose MTR than support it. That is true among Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It's true in the coalfields, and it's true (nation wide). And it was true in polls conducted in 2004, 2008, and 2011.
It shouldn't be surprising that people oppose MTR, especially those who live near it. Its drawbacks are immense and shared among all of us, while its only real benefit is increased profits for coal company shareholders.
MTR & human health
Michael Hendryx is a West Virginia University professor who has published multiple studies on the impacts of MTR mining. His results show that living near MTR – even after eliminating the effects on miners and of poverty – causes increased birth defects, cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease and mortality.
MTR & The Economy
Coal companies and their friends in Washington and Charleston W.Va. love to talk about the benefits MTR brings to the economy and the jobs it produces.
MTR does create economic activity, but the deeper you look at it, the more the economic argument lines up against MTR.
Because MTR uses huge machinery, it employs less people than traditional forms of mining. In West Virginia, 6,300 people are employed on all types of mines. That's not trivial, but it's less than 1 percent of the state's labor force, and much of that is on smaller, non-MTR surface mines.
Limiting MTR would expand underground and small-scale surface mining, which would create jobs.
Of course, those jobs would cost the coal companies money, which would drive up the price of the coal.
That is true, but it's only true because the public pays huge costs the coal companies are able to externalize.
The coal companies don't pay for the public health burden they place on Appalachian communities. They don't pay for climate damages, nor do they pay for the loss of tourism in formerly pristine mountains.
According to a Harvard study, if they did pay the full costs of coal, electricity derived from coal would be two-to-three times what it currently is. That would make wind energy much more competitive.
Where MTR is practiced, people are poorer than in similar areas without don't have MTR. Hendryx said he is, "very confident ... that coal mining is a contributing factor to poor economic conditions and premature mortality."
MTR & the environment
The region where MTR is practiced is ecologically unique. It is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world.
Study after study has shown every MTR mine severely impairs streams for many miles, and reclamation technology is not able to mitigate those effects.
Communities impacted include aquatic bugs, fish, birds, amphibians and mammals. Thousands of acres of forest are leveled.
The topology, soil and biological communities of MTR sites will remain altered for tens of thousands of years.
Why MTR continues
There is no defense left for MTR.
A few companies make huge profits, while people get sick, poverty increases and streams are destroyed.
Unfortunately, in our political system, money talks – and salamanders, beech trees and coalfield residents don't have a lot of money.
Those who profit from blowing the tops off mountains do have a lot of money, and they're spending it to make sure they'll be able to keep making that money by doing more of the same.
Our representative, David McKinley, co-sponsored the bill to weaken the Clean Water Act. Now it goes to the Senate.
In the 19 months before Joe Manchin was elected to the Senate, he made $1.4 million from Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage he ran before he entered politics, which is now run by his son.
Watch our Senator closely. Will he choose to weaken clean water regulations to further enrich himself and his family?
Or will he do what West Virginians want and strengthen environmental protections to protect our health, our environment and our economy from MTR?