Appalachia Rising to stop surface coal mining

September 30, 2010

This weekend, more than 700 Appalachian residents, retired coal miners, religious leaders, scientists, artists, and students held a three-day conference at Georgetown to protest the practice of mountaintop coal removal. The group, Appalachia Rising, unites residents from West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, Appalachian states whose streams and mountains have been negatively affected by this harmful mining practice. Residents of these states, whose economies are dependent on large coal companies, are seeking economic diversification and environmental protection from President Barack Obama’s administration, and the government should oblige them. The time has come to end the cycle of destruction and deforestation that harms their homes. Government officials must work with local employers to build a sustainable regional economy, where residents do not have to choose between their jobs and their communities.

Mountaintop removal mining is the practice of blowing off the top of a mountain so that coal companies can easily access exposed coal seams and avoid building deep and expensive mining shafts. According to Appalachia Rising, over 500 mountains the Appalachian Mountain Range have been destroyed in this fashion. Mountaintop removal mining has a whole host of detrimental environmental side effects: cancer-causing toxins are blasted into the air, biodiversity suffers, and headwater streams are often buried or polluted at their source. For years, government officials have essentially ignored these effects because the coal industry supports many jobs in coal producing states. In West Virginia alone, for example, 88,000 people are employed by the coal industry.

Under the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was essentially gutted. The new EPA then began to roll back environmental regulations such as the Stream Buffer Zone protection provision, which has since allowed coal companies to place waste directly into headwater waterways. Congress has passed a number of laws, including the Clean Water Act, which if enforced properly, would deter the mining companies from permanently damaging the Appalachian environment. However, simply enforcing existing regulations cannot solve this problem. The Obama administration needs to make the Appalachian region a priority for economic investment and job creation in sustainable industries.

The practice of mountaintop removal mining is an abhorrent one. Those who are forced to live with the long-term impacts of this practice can only stare as the landscape that makes their home naturally beautiful is packed with dynamite and blown into their rivers. All this occurs as the EPA sits and watches from the sidelines. It’s time for President Barack Obama and Congress to take a definitive and meaningful stand on this issue, and blow up mountaintop removal for good.

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The Editorial Board is the official opinion of the Georgetown Voice. Its current composition can be found on the masthead. The Board strives to publish critical analyses of events at both Georgetown and in the wider D.C. community. We welcome everyone from all backgrounds and experience levels to join us!


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