Kudos to the USA Today for coming out strong in its opposition to the worst of the worst coal mining: mountaintop removal. Today's excellent, hold-no-punches editorial declares "it's time to protect forests, streams from environmental degradation."
It kicks off this way:
Buried underneath Appalachia is some of the best coal in the USA, and for years it was mined the traditional underground way, which can be difficult, dangerous and expensive. In the 1970s, however, mining companies figured out a cheaper and more productive way to get at much of that coal: Use explosives to blow the tops off mountains and take the coal directly out of the ground.
"Mountaintop removal" mining became widespread in the 1990s and now accounts for about 10% of U.S. coal production. It employs thousands of workers in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and Ohio. But it often comes at a grievous environmental cost that will leave its mark long after the coal is burned.
The editorial succinctly details how this mining decapitates Appalachian peaks, denudes lush forests, and dumps debris into valley streams -- destroying or damaging more than a thousand miles of mountain waterways to date. The paper also points out how the pace of mountaintop removal could strip an area roughly the size of Delaware by 2012.
The editorial also questions the dubious claim that reclamation is converting flattened ridges into worthwhile commercial development and it dismisses restoration efforts that plant grass and scrub where forests used to grow.
As for industry's argument that mountaintop removal means jobs for an impoverished region, the editorial cites studies which show that underground mining offers more employment and less cost to the evironment and coalfield communities.
The editorial concludes:
Producing fossil fuels such as oil and coal always involves balancing jobs, energy supplies and price against harm to nature. For too many years, the balance in Appalachia has tilted too far away from the environment, and the region will bear the scars for generations. It's time to tip the scales the other way.