Kentucky is fleetingly in the news today because of the US Presidential primaries, but I wish there was more attention being paid to the extraordinarily destructive coal mining that has been going on in that state day after day. There is a lot of debate about how to reduce coal consumption and reduce the greenhouse impacts of coal usage, but whatever options we adopt in regards to that, we know enough now to avoid destroying the environment just getting it out of the ground in the first place. I was amazed to read of the mining practices currently used in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountains. It’s the sort of mining process one associates with a very poor third world country, not the USA.
In a process known as mountaintop removal an upland moonscape is being created, which is incapable of regenerating trees. As far as the eye can see, the land is grey and pockmarked with huge black lakes, filled with toxic coal slurry.
The act of destroying a million-year-old mountain has several distinct stages. First it is earmarked for removal and the hardwood forest cover, containing over 500 species of tree per acre in this region, is bulldozed away. The trees are typically burnt rather than logged, because mining companies are not in the lumber business. Then topsoil is scraped away and high explosives laid in the sandstone. Thousands of blasts go off across the region every day, blowing up what the mining industry calls “overburden”.
The rubble is then tipped into the valleys – more than 7,000 have already been filled – and more than 700 miles of rivers and streams have disappeared under rubble and thousands more soiled with toxic waste.
Tens of thousands of acres of mountain have been transformed in this way in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.
Read the full story here.