Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is the proud co-sponsor of a bi-partisan bill in Congress that would effectively end mountaintop removal coal mining. (You can help by contacting your senators and urging them to support S. 696 The Appalachia Restoration Act.) Yesterday, The Tennessean published an OpEd by Sen. Alexander on this issue. Here are excerpts:
Coal is an essential part of our energy future, but it is not necessary to destroy our mountaintops and streams in order to have enough coal. Millions of tourists spend tens of millions of job-creating dollars in Tennessee every year to enjoy our mountains — a natural beauty that, for me, and I believe for most Tennesseans, makes us even prouder to live here.
On the nature of the problem:
Mountaintop removal and valley fill coal mining occurs mostly in the 12 million-acre coal-bearing region of Central Appalachia. This mining practice is limited in part because of the area's unique geology, characterized by steep slopes and narrow valleys. Companies have found that the least expensive way to reach shallow coal seams is to blast the tops off these steep slopes and then use heavy machinery to push the mining waste into the valleys below. This has become more prevalent and more destructive in recent years. As available coal seams become thinner, mining operations must move more earth for each ton of coal that they recover.
On the scale of the ecological destruction:
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by 2013 mountaintop removal mining will have destroyed 1,189 square miles (761,000 acres) of forest or nearly 7 percent of the region's forest that existed in 1992. Already, more than 500 mountains have been affected and 2,000 miles of mountain streams have been buried.
On the scientific case against mountaintop removal:
An increasing body of science tells us that mining waste filling the streams releases toxic pollution that destroys water quality in a way that can never be reversed. In January a Science magazine article described "serious environmental impacts" with "a high potential for human health impacts."
The material used to fill Appalachian valleys can contain toxic contaminants like lead, arsenic, mercury and selenium, and the impacts are cumulative, with more dramatic affects on water quality and stream life as mining activity in a watershed increases.
On the need to pass his bill:
Our federal legislation would not ban surface mining...but it does help to make sure that our mountaintops will continue to be protected for us and for our visitors and that our streams will be safe from the pollution of mountaintop removal mining in other states.
Recently, EPA announced that it would limit permits for mountaintop removal mining by setting a higher standard to prevent water pollution from future mining operations. But our legislation is needed to end the practice before its destruction is so expansive that the Appalachian region can never recover.
It's time to listen to Lamar. It's time to end mountaintop removal. It's time to contact your senator.