Frustration Growing Over Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

By: Nick Engelfried 

August 31, 2010

Environmental activists in the eastern United States are asking the Obama administration to put a permanent stop to the practice of mountaintop removal coal mining, which they say is destroying ecosystems and water quality in the Appalachian Mountains.  On September 27th, thousands of activists plan to gather in the Washington, DC for a massive rally in support of a moratorium on mountaintop removal.

Mountaintop removal coal mining, an activity confined to eastern states such as West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky, is a practice that involves clear-cutting forested mountains and then blasting off the mountaintops to expose hidden coal seems.  Mountaintop removal mining is strongly opposed by environmental groups, which contend it is one of the most destructive mining practices in the country.  In addition to destroying forests and mountaintops, rubble and debris from blasting sites are dumped into nearby valleys and streams, polluting the water supply of dozens of communities in Appalachia.

Residents of affected communities argue mountaintop removal is making their water unsafe to drink, endangering towns located downhill from blasting zones, and jeopardizing the cultural and environmental heritage of the region.  In 2005, local organizations came together with a small number of nationally focused environmental groups to hold the first “Mountain Justice Summer,” and spent the summer months supporting the work of local activists and strengthening the ties between opponents of mountaintop removal living in different parts of the Appalachian region.

After 2005, Mountain Justice Summer became an annual event which continued to grow larger each year.  This summer’s activities will culminate in the rally at the Nation’s Capitol, titled Appalachia Rising, where some participants plan acts of civil disobedience to protest mountaintop removal.  Non-violent civil disobedience, from blockading mining sites to tree-sits meant to prevent mountain clear cuts, has been a part of the campaign against mountaintop removal ever since the first Mountain Justice Summer in 2005.  Organizers of September’s rally say they are committed to non-violent actions that will not threaten human safety or property.

Mountaintop removal has already destroyed over 500 of the world’s oldest mountains and more than 2,000 miles of streams, and has contaminated our nation’s waters,” states the web site for September’s mobilization.  “We must end mountaintop removal and transform the economies of Appalachia away from destructive mining practices and toward clean-energy jobs and a sustainable and healthy future.”

While promising outward civility, mountaintop removal protesters have some reason to feel increasingly frustrated.  Their years-long campaign has elevated mountaintop removal mining from a local concern to a national issue, but the practice still continues in many eastern states.  When the Obama administration came into office last year, some activists hoped President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency would put a speedy halt to mountaintop removal.  They were disappointed: while the agency has taken some steps to enforce clean water laws in ways that restrict mountaintop removal, there has been no definitive moratorium on this type of mining.

On Monday opponents of mountaintop removal renewed their call for leadership from the Obama administration, reiterating their intention to bring thousands of people to the nation’s capitol for a mass protest.  By continuing to pressure the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental groups hope to finally bring an end to mountaintop removal coal mining. 

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