Witness Mountaintop Mining

Yesterday I blogged about the Bush administration's new effort to weaken laws so coal companies can dump mining waste into America's rivers and streams.  I posted a photo I took of a mountaintop mine.  As one person commented, "More people need to see pictures like these to realize what is going on...It's just shocking!"

Good idea.

So here are some of the other photos I took last month while touring mining operations in West Virginia.  I flew with Southwings over massive mining sites just outside of Charleston.  The images tell the story.

It's not like this is the only mine we saw.  Far from it.  In all directions, as far as the eye can see, there are these sprawling open wounds scattered across the mountain range.  Some extend more than 10 square miles.  The scale of devastation is truly epic.

As we flew closer to the sites, the precision of the mining is impressive.  What once was a thick-forested mountaintop is now a barren landscape.  All vegetation has been meticulously scraped using explosives and huge earth-moving machines. Not a blade of grass is left on the table-top worksite; the topsoil is gone, exposing the bedrock on the ledges.

Lest anyone think that this wasteland is located in remote places, consider these next images.  This particular Massey Energy coal mining operation, in West Virginia's Raleigh County, covers nearly 2,000 acres .  At the bottom of the first photo below, just a couple hundred feet downstream from the plant's coal silo , is Marsh Fork Elementary School

The kids at Marsh Fork not only have to contend with air pollution from the coal dust, but they also attend school in a danger zone just below one of the largest coal slurry ponds in the world.  Yes, that black liquid in the photo below is the giganitic Shumate coal impoundment, filled with toxic water left over after the coal impurities are 'settled out'.  The 'cleaned' coal is then transported down to the silo, before being loaded on to rail cars. 

How would you like it if your child attended school practically at the foot of a leaking earthen dam that holds back billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge, at a strip mine where blasting happens all day?

On this trip I also met with local allies -- the Alliance for Appalachia and Coal River Mountain Watch -- to learn more about the problem.  We drove up to Larry Gibson's property on Kayford Mountain, which is completely surrounded by mountaintop mining.  Larry, bless his soul, has steadfastly refused to sell his family's land to mining companies -- and he graciously opens up his property to those who want to see firsthand what mountaintop mining is doing to his homeland.

Here is a mountain steadily being removed -- chunk by chunk -- right before our eyes, to access the thin coal seams below.  Larry points out that his ridgetop used to be the lowest peak, but now looks down at the former mountaintops eaten away by the dozers.

The main emotion is shock, followed by outrage.  It's one thing to see the scope of mountaintop mining from the air, however.  Getting an up-close view at ground-level is even more heartbreaking.  It's like staring into the abyss, gazing at the depths of Hell.

The dump truck below is larger than you can imagine.  The tires are more than  twice as tall as the average person.  The bed can scoop up two house-sized loads of rock and rubble, which of course gets dumped down the side of the mountain into the valley below. 

The debris buries headwater streams, disrupting the water table, drying up wells and poisoning water supplies for the communities located in those valleys.  Without tree cover and vegetation, rain can't be absorbed and flitered -- so typical storms become squalls that cause flash flooding in the narrow valleys, wreaking havoc on people's property and threatening lives. 

The new rules recently proposed by the Interior Department would legalize the so-called valley fills that come with mountaintop mining.  Take a moment to submit your public comments against this practice. 

After 8 long years of rampant destruction, mountaintop removal coal mining must be ended.  With a new administration coming in, the fight is more urgent than ever.  

I hope the photos I've shared move you to get engaged in the effort to stop mountaintop removal coal mining.  You can also view videos of America's most endangered mountains here.

(Photo credit: Rob Perks)