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Picturing an End for Mountaintop Removal
Sarah Kuck, 5 Dec 08

Flying over the Appalachian Mountains of West Virgina will undoubtedly award you with stunning views of rolling blue-green hillsides, deep misty valleys and high plateaus. But from your birds-eye view, you might also be accosted by the sight of unnatural-looking, rocky bald spots where the tops of mountains used to be.

Mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining in southern West Virginia

Photo by Vivian Stockman

Mountaintop removal is technique used for finding more coal in which miners blast through 800 to 1,000 feet of mountaintop stone to get to embedded coal seams. This isn't easy or safe for the surrounding ecosystems, the mine workers or nearby communities.

Independence Coal (a Massey Energy subsidiary) operates the Upper Big Branch surface mine (permit # S-3019-99), where this massive valley fill looms over the devastated landscape The valley fill is locally known as the Birchton Curve Valley Fill.

Photo by Vivian Stockman

These mines are more than just aesthetically scarring. They destroy ancient forests and habitats, exacerbate erosion and sediment runoff, and pollute the streams below, ruining the water that farms and towns rely on for irrigation and daily life.

Another view of the Birchton Curve Valley Fill.

Photo by Vivian Stockman

On Tues., Dec. 2, many opponents of mountaintop removal were surprised to hear that the Environmental Protection Agency repealed a rule that restricted this type of mining.

This wasn't a popular move, and was most likely another attempt by the Bush Administration to push through more environmentally backward midnight regulation, as Margaret Williams, contributing editor for Asheville, North Carolina's Mountain Xpress wrote:

In October, a nationwide poll on mountaintop-removal mining found that two out of three likely voters opposed the rule change. An Oct. 21 New York Times editorial noted that “more than 1,200 miles of streams in Appalachia already have been buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal coal mining.” And then-presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama both voiced their opposition to the practice.

“Once again, the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to live up to its name. With less than two months left in power, the Bush administration is determined to cement its legacy as having the worst environmental record in history,” said Joan Mulhern, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice.
By some measures, more than 400 mountaintops have been stripped of trees and flattened, 1,200 miles of mountain streams buried under rubble. The forests that once cloaked 387,000 acres of the world’s most ancient mountain range have been razed. If the industry is allowed to proceed at its current pace, an area the size of Delaware will have been lost, say environmental groups.

At 10 cents per kilowatt hour, coal's low monetary cost currently trumps that of more sustainable energy options, like solar and wind. Until the price of alternatives are equal, it will be difficult to stop the demand for dirty energy. But according to a recent article by the Christian Science Monitor the cost per watt of renewables is dropping:

Evidence of a shift appears to be taking shape around the country. Google, the Internet search company, has invested in several young solar-power start-ups with an explicit cheaper-than-coal goal. San Jose, Calif.-based Nanosolar already claims to be shipping “thin-film” solar panels that generate electricity on par with the cost of coal-fired power. And in Lexington, Mass., Frank van Mierlo and Emanuel Sachs are leading a team of engineers with one audacious mission: Make a silicon photovoltaic cell that turns sunshine into electricity as cheap as electricity from a coal-burning power plant.
“There’s no doubt that we’re going to see solar as cheap as coal power a lot sooner than many people realize,” says Mr. van Mierlo, president of solar power efficiency company 1366 Technologies.

In addition to making alternatives to coal more affordable, another solution is movement building and activism.The Rainforest Action Network declared victory on Thurs., Dec. 4, as Bank of America posted its new policy against mountaintop removal coal mining.That success is lending optimism to others within the movement working to make energy from coal a thing of the past.

That's one for technological solutions, and one for community voices. Now on to the long-term solutions.

The bright green solution to mountaintop removal coal mining is finding a way to more honestly price the resources we use. This method would price energy in a way that directly reflects the true cost of its extraction and the environmental cost of its use, while placing value on the ecosystem services nature provides to us for free.

Pricing energy honestly allows the true expense of blowing the tops off mountains to be seen more clearly. As a result, alternative sources look far more attractive. This solution helps us make smart decisions, like valuing ecosystem services and choosing renewable energy sources.

We need a national policy that supports this. If you believe in this, please sign our letter to President-elect Obama asking him to discuss this and other solutions for addressing climate change in his inaugural address.

Photo credit: Vivian Stockman /
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On the need for scientific education regarding the human overpopulation of Earth in these early years of Century XXI...........

Dear Friends of the World Changing community,

I want to at least try to gain your quick help. I'm not sure if you've heard, but yesterday the "AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population" submitted an idea for how we think the Obama Administration could change America. It's called "Ideas for Change in America."

I've submitted an idea and wanted to see if you could vote for it. The title is: Accepting human limits and Earth's limitations. You can read and vote for the idea by clicking on the following link:

The top 10 ideas are going to be presented to the Obama Administration on Inauguration Day and will be supported by a national lobbying campaign run by, MySpace, and more than a dozen leading nonprofits after the Inauguration. So each idea has a real chance at becoming policy.


Sincerely yours,


Steven Earl Salmony
AWAREness Campaign on the Human Population,
established 2001

Posted by: Steven Earl Salmony on 9 Dec 08

Why do you have a Caterpillar ad on the bottom of this site? This is the same equipment that is used in the destruction of MTR!

Posted by: paul on 20 Dec 08

We use Google Adsense and were unaware of this ad in our queue. We've now blocked them. Thanks for pointing it out!

Posted by: Sarah on 22 Dec 08

U can Dog Mountain Top removal all u like But what ur not talking or showing is how it looks once we have finished reclaimation work on the site. It LOOKS BETTER then when we started the reason being if u have ever lived where we Strip mine u would know there is no PLACES TO BUILD schools, Air Ports, Residental Areas Etc WE MAKE THAT. We provide 50% of this countrys Power. No to mention the most important Fact of it all IT MAKES JOBS and lots of them AND u are trying to create More unemployment GOOD WORK!!!exactly what this country needs

Posted by: Jacob on 24 Mar 09

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