Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Coal as an energy source is problematic.  Coal burning causes pollution, by nature coal mining damages the environment, and coal mining companies have a reputation for being money grubbers who care nothing about their workers or the ecosystems their mining sites are located in.  Each of these aspects should be enough to give our society pause when choosing energy sources.  Coal is simply an unsustainable and unethical industry and should be actively fazed out.

One very graphic example of the evils of coal can be found in a beautiful corner of the United States, the Appalachian Mountain Range which runs through Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  Here we can find a coal mining method dubbed "mountaintop removal mining", surely one of the most thoughtless and irresponsible industries in the U.S. today.  Mountaintop removal mining (MRM) has done more damage to the environment in which in occurs than any logging or farming practices, and yet is completely legal.
 MRM begins with the clear-cutting of an entire mountaintop.  Top soil is disrupted and wild life is killed.  This form of logging also causes flooding and landslides.  Next, enormous amounts of explosives are set off, blasting chunks of rock long distances.  Because the Appalachians are fairly populated for a mountain range, such practices are often dangerous for the people living near by.  Mining companies own huge machines which scoop out the remaining mountaintop and push the soil into adjacent valleys.  By doing this they are burying the head waters to many of the area's important streams.

The enormous scale which these projects are run on completely overwhelms the environment in which they take place.  The practice of clear-cutting when done by loggers is strictly regulated, prompt replanted is enforced, and the result is a renewal of the decimated forest land.  This is not the case with MRM, however; few sites are replants and even then far from successfully.  MRM succeeds in turning a beautiful mountain forests, home to fragile ecosystem and major tourist attraction, into a waste of dirt.

Another element to all this is the people who live near these mining sites.  As the mining projects move into an area, the coal company will buy up all the existing houses and demolish them.  Traditionally coal miners themselves, these people often lose not only their homes to MRM, but also their jobs.  Because of the increased use of massive machines, the actual number of mining jobs have gone down; a small group of workers can clear an entire mountaintop.  The coal companies are brutally oblivious to the residents near their mining projects who are exposed to extreme pollution and very undesirable living conditions due to their irresponsible industry practices.

For further resource into this topic, there are many great websites available.   For a look at MRM from a regional perspective check out  For a good concise "myths and facts" analysis see and to read National Geographic's take on the topic, visit

1 comment:

  1. It is a bit of juggling game in the coal industry and coal prices from underground mines to ensure enough electricity and steel capacity worldwide while making sure the impact on the environment and people is minimal.