Mountain top removal in action. Via:YouTube
If you've never seen what mountaintop-removal coal mining looks like, watch this short video. Coal companies clearcut forests on ancient Appalachian mountains, blow apart the mountain itself to get to pockets of coal, then shove the dirt and debris over the side where it fills in valleys cut by creeks.
I maintain that if this practice was going on within view of Manhattan, or Hollywood, or the nation's capitol, well, it would not be going on at all. Yet it has buried and contaminated close to 2,000 miles of streams. If it continues, past and future mining could destroy 1.4 million acres, or about 2,200 square miles of some of the most biologically diverse forest in the world.
As Kathy Selvage, Teri Blanton, Maria Gunnoe - and actress Ashley Judd - will tell you, mountaintop-removal mining also destroys lives and communities. In a minute I want you to meet them and hear why they say things like, "You can't destroy people to power homes," and "There's no price being paid for coal that's higher than the price paid by those who live near these operations."
You can call in support - today!
These women are joined this week by 150 people organized by the Alliance for Appalachia and a dozen ally groups, and together they are walking the halls of Congress asking representatives to co-sponsor the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310), which would outlaw the practice of "valley fills" - the dumping of debris from mining into nearby streams. The bill was introduced with 116 co-sponsors. The Sierra Club teamed up with Judd on a petition of support that far exceeded all of our expectations with the number of signatures it garnered. And today there's a national call-in day for those who can't beat feet to the Capitol.
Bills have also been introduced at the state level in North Carolina and Georgia that would ban the use of mountaintop-removal coal in those states.
But back to Maria, Teri, and Kathy. We called them in D.C. on Monday during lunch and they passed a cell phone back and forth in order to answer our questions. Check it out.
Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, West Virginia
Maria Gunnoe lives on property her grandfather bought in 1951 while making $18 a week as a coal miner. He tended it throughout his life, as did his son after that, anticipating that it would sustain future generations of their family. They planted raspberries and blackberries, and orchards of apple, peach, hazelnut, walnut, and pecan trees.
Now Maria can sit on her front porch and watch three mountaintop-removal operations going on. She shot the video on this page from her apple orchard in Bob White, W.V. The mining has caused severe flooding in the area (her kids sleep in street clothes in case they have to run outside in the night to avoid rising waters), and has contaminated streams and the family's well to the point that they must now purchase drinking water. Mining has destroyed the good work of two generations on her property. See Maria's video here.
She filed a lawsuit six years ago, which is just about to be heard, but her expectations are low. "I have heard coal barons and lawyers discuss the fact that lawsuits often outlive the people who filed them. In my opinion there is no price that's being paid for coal any higher than the people that live there are paying - with water, air, land itself, and their lives."
What gives her hope? The state-level bills banning this form of mining - and the fact that there were only a handful of people at the first lobby day four years ago, and this year there are 150.
Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, Kentucky
"I grew up in Kentucky and watched mountains around me crumble and disappear," says Teri Blanton. "We've lost 500 mountains to mountaintop removal mining. Coal is not going to be around forever, and we shouldn't destroy everything about our homeland to get what's left of it. We should transition away from coal and have a more diverse economy in Appalachia."
Teri's been called the Erin Brokovich of mountaintop removal mining. She's worked hard to educate local residents about the contamination in their communities from coal mining, and helped one community save its lone unpolluted stream.
"They'll tell you that this mining brings jobs," she said on Monday, "but look at the coal-producing counties in Appalachia -- they're the poorest in the nation! They've been mining coal in the county I grew up in for 100 years, and 30% of its people live at poverty level. If it was going to bring prosperity, wouldn't it have done so by now?"
What gives her hope? "The Power Shift event that happened here in D.C. a couple of weeks ago. It made me absolutely hopeful to see the youth of this nation asking for a green energy evolution."
Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, Virginia
Kathy is the daughter of a coal-miner who, as a child, would roll up her britches and go bare-footed down to the creek and play among the rocks. "I'd try to catch the minnows with my hands and catch crawdads," she remembers. "Our waterways today are not of the quality that allows our grandchilden and children to do that. We're at the point where waterways are declared dead. You can't find life in those creeks no matter how hard you look."
What gives her hope? Kathy says that while people around the country haven't seen mountaintop removal mining, they do seem to be connecting with it as it relates to water.
"No matter how you feel about the mining of coal or the production of electricity, this is about water - a life-sustaining and giving force that must be protected," she said. "I believe that water and coal are both natural resources, but the protection of water should be elevated above coal. We could possibly live without electricity, but we'll never be able to live without the purity of water. I don't ask people before I offer them
a drink of water whether they're a Republican or Democrat - we need to agree that the Appalachian mountains are a national treasure and the water that flows them from them is as well. I feel it in my heart and soul."
So in conclusion, Treehugger readers, I say: Watch the video. Listen to the voices. Now...please pick up the phone. Many thanks.
More mountain top removal posts.
Ashley Judd on Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining
An Alternative to Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining in West Virginia ...