Kentuckians Growing More Concerned About Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

Western KY aerial view

The coalfields of eastern Kentucky are ground zero for mountaintop removal coal mining.  Explosives rock the peaks and echo through the hollows.  Twenty-story draglines scrape out enough dirt to fill several dump trucks with every scoop.  Earth-movers literally move the earth, making mountaintops as flat as table-tops.  For every ton of coal extracted, more than 20 tons of rubble, dirt and debris unceremoniously gets dumped into adjacent valleys, burying the streams below.

Kentucky is coal country, and has been for generations.  But unlike underground mining, extreme strip mining like mountaintop removal replaces many of the miners with machinery and leaves a desolate landscape in its destructive wake.  In Appalachia, where jobs are scarce and mining represents a mono-industry, residents are torn over whether any mining is better than no mining at all.  But if Kentucky is any indication, a tipping point may finally be at hand in terms of public sentiment.

A new opinion survey shows that mountaintop removal is moving up the list of environmental concerns for Kentuckians.  Whereas few people mentioned mountaintop removal as a top concern in previous surveys, this issue ranked third in the new poll -- with 14% saying it is the most important problem facing the state.  That's encouraging, considering that most people in America don't even know that almost half of the U.S. power supply comes from the mining and burning of coal.

"While this is an improvement, these percentages are still a concern in a state where electricity costs are relatively low due to our proximity to coal and where coal, the jobs it creates and the way it is mined are major sources of public debate," according to the survey report.

It's worth noting that 26% of survey respondents ranked water pollution as their top concern while 22% cited air pollution.  Of course, mountaintop removal mining contributes mightily to both of those problems.