Mountaintop removal mining is a method of extracting coal that involves completely removing the top layer of earth from a mountain to gain access to the valuable coal seams within it. The excess dirt is put back or fills the surrounding valleys, disrupting and altering the natural landscape and ecosystems present there. This is a very common technique in Appalachia areas of the U.S. The environmental impacts are immense according to studies by the EPA. Water is often polluted by released minerals, killing life in the streams, and streams and forests are destroyed or fragmented.
According to the EPA, here are the steps of the process:
1. Layers of overburden are removed from the mountain to gain access to the main deposites of coal.
2. Unused material is moved inro the valley, which disrupts the ecosystem here.
3. Lower layers of coal are removed
4. As more coal is removed, the remaining soil and rock are used to regrade the slope.
5. Final regrading takes place when all of the coal is removed. Notice the drastic change in the shape of the mountain and loss of much of the valley.
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