Mountaintop Removal



Photo of McCoy Brother Mining Co., West Virginia, around 1950

McCoy Brothers Mining, West Virginia, 1940-1950. Courtesy "buttersweet" via Flickr

Coal is considered to be one of humanity's most abundant resources of fossil fuel.

As of present, it is known to be the largest source of fuel for electricity and has been attributed to global warming because of its release of carbon dioxide emmisions when burned.

Mining for coal has been around in the Appalachian mountain range since the turn of the 20th century. Recently, however, with pressure on coal mining companies to make coal mining safer, staff less employees and keep up with the energy demands of our rapidly growing population, the mining companies have come up with a new way to mine for coal*.

Rather than dig into the bellies of mountains and mine the coal, they remove the top of the mountain with explosives and "harvest" the newly exposed layers of coal with massive machinery. This process is called mountaintop Rremoval and is gaining popularity among coal mining companies nation-wide, but specifically in the Appalachian region including mountains in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Mountaintop removal is allowed by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. The SMCRA states that coal operators must restore the land they have mined to its "approximate original contour," and that "The condition of the land after the mining process must be equal to or better than the pre-mining conditions."*

The Clean Air and Water Act was also amended in 1977 and was used along with the SMCRA to ensure adequate protection for the environment during surface mining. Before a provision to the Clean Air and Water Act in 1988, according to Reece, the act stated that only clean "fill" could be dumped into nearby streams, not "waste". However, after the provision, made by a former coal lobbyist Stephen Griles, all waste generated by strip mining companies was reclassified as benign "fill material." The provision still stands today.*

Because of these changes to the laws and regulations, coal mining companies work under very little scrutiny over environmental impact. This has caused noticeable effects to the environment.*