TCS Daily

Moving Mountains No More

By Jacqueline Pham and Ton Long - December 5, 2007 12:00 AM

As co-founder of Christians For The Mountains, I encourage church folks to enjoy God¹s creation and be responsible caretakers. Our primary advocacy mission is to end the practice of Mountaintop Removal coal extraction.

Historically, coal has been mined by burrowing underground tunnels from which the mineral is extracted. In recent decades, the advent of powerful explosives and heavy equipment has led to the practice of surface mining, which extracts coal by stripping away the surface soil and rock. Mountaintop Removal mining starts at the top of a mountain working downward blasting apart as much as 600 vertical feet of mountain to expose up to a dozen thin seams of coal that lay in layers separated by thick layers of rock (overburden). Huge dragline buckets scoop the coal up for transport, while the overburden is shoved into nearby valleys and headwater streams. The coal is washed to remove impurities before shipment to power plants; the wash water is pumped into massive multi-billion gallon slurry storage impoundments that loom over valleys. When an area is mined out it is ³reclaimed² by hydro-seeding with nonnative grass.

Over 50 percent of our nation¹s energy comes from coal-fired power plants.
Although heavy mechanization has replaced about 85 percent of miners from historic labor peaks, the remaining jobs pay well. So why oppose Mountaintop Mining?

For starters, Mountaintop Removal mining violates a basic law of conservation in which outputs must have corresponding inputs. Extraction cannot be one way. The Mixed Mesophytic Appalachian Forest is one of the most biologically diverse temperate regions in the world. Productive hardwoods, clear running streams, and a rich cultural heritage are valuable and sustainable resources. These treasures are permanently sacrificed for the energy and profit hauled from the hills for others to gain; barrenness and poverty remain.

In October, the pro-business released a survey, ³America¹s Greenest States.² At the top of the list of states are Vermont, Oregon, and Washington. High population states such as Maryland and New Jersey are also in the top ten. Last place? Number 50 is my home state of West Virginia, which to quote from the article, is suffering from ³a mix of toxic waste, lots of pollution and consumption and no clear plans to do anything about it.²

Earlier, in July, published its annual ³Best States for Business.² Criteria included costs of labor, energy, and taxes; educational attainment of its labor force; regulatory and tort climate, incentives, transportation, and bond ratings; income and gross state product growth and venture capital investments; and schools, health, crime, cost of living, and poverty rates. Top states for business include Virginia, Utah, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. At the bottom, number 50, is West Virginia.

Furthermore, the particular counties of West Virginia and adjacent Kentucky where Mountaintop Removal is practiced are among the most impoverished and dysfunctional places in America, far worse than the rest of their respective states. Simply, the incomparable wealth of this region, a ³Saudi Arabia of coal,² has been extracted to line the pockets of outside investors and to be carted away as cheap energy for the nation. Capital has not been invested back into the infrastructure of the local economy. Diversification is nil.

Conservation demands that land retain its viability. For example, a productive forest might be cleared to make way for a productive meadow or cropland. However, to seriously and permanently degrade land or water is theft from future generations. Our mountains that are being leveled, the valley streams that are being filled, and the botanical richness that is being impoverished, must be seen as a shortsighted plunder.

Parallel to this land plunder is the plunder of communities. Extracting from the land without giving back a commensurate input impoverishes the ecosystem. Extracting from people their blood, sweat, and tears without reinvesting capital back into their communities leaves blight, despair, and inertia.

A concerted effort is needed that strengthens the environment, heals the land, diversifies the economy, builds a strong infrastructure, and develops communities that attract and retain vigorous, moral, and competent people.

Allen Johnson is co-founder of Christians For The Mountains, and was a participant in the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment¹s Environmental Stewardship for Religious Leaders program this past September.

1 Comment

How about some data to back up those wild claims.
1) Back up your claim that reclaimed areas are reseeded with non-native grasses.

2) Back up your claim that reclaimed areas will never be as productive as before mining.

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